Earth given 50-50 chance of hitting key warming mark by 2026

Earth given 50-50 chance of hitting key warming mark by 2026

A new report says there’s nearly a 50-50 chance that world will hit a key warming threshold in the next five years

May 9, 2022, 11: 04 PM

5 min read

The world is creeping closer to the warming threshold international agreements are trying to prevent, with nearly a 50-50 chance that Earth will temporarily hit that temperature mark within the next five years, teams of meteorologists across the globe predicted.

With human-made climate change continuing, there’s a 48% chance that the globe will reach a yearly average of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels of the late 1800s at least once between now and 2026, a bright red signal in climate change negotiations and science, a team of 11 different forecast centers predicted for the World Meteorological Organization late Monday.

The odds are increasing along with the thermometer. Last year, the same forecasters put the odds at closer to 40% and a decade ago it was only 10%.

“We will see continued warming in line what is expected with climate changes,” Leon Hermanson from the UK Met Office, who coordinated this report.

These forecasts are based on long-term averages and computer simulations. These forecasts are not as accurate as weather forecasts that predict how wet or hot a day will be in particular places.

But even if the world hits that mark of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times — the globe has already warmed about 1.1 degrees (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s — that’s not quite the same as the global threshold first set by international negotiators in the 2015 Paris agreement. In 2018, a major United Nations science report predicted dramatic and dangerous effects on people and the world if warming exceeds 1.5 degrees.

The global 1.5 degree threshold is about the world being that warm not for one year, but over a 20- or 30- year time period, several scientists said. This is not what the report says. Hermanson stated that meteorologists cannot tell if Earth reaches the average mark years after it has actually been reached. This is because it is a long-term average.

“This warning is of what will become just average in a few more years,” said Natalie Mahowald, a Cornell University climate scientist. She wasn’t part the forecast teams.

The prediction is reasonable considering the world’s current temperature. An additional tenth (nearly two-tenths) of a degree Fahrenheit is expected due to human-caused climate changes in the next five year, according to Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth. He wasn’t part the forecast teams. The possibility of strong El Nino, the natural periodic warming in the Pacific that alters the weather worldwide, could increase the world’s temperature to 1.5 degrees. The world is currently experiencing a La Nina for the second consecutive year. This is the opposite to El Nino and has a slight cooling effect, but it isn’t enough in order to offset the global warming caused by heat-trapping gases such as oil, coal, and natural gas burning, scientists stated. The five-year forecast says that La Nina is likely to end late this year or in 2023.

The greenhouse effect caused by fossil fuels is like setting the global temperature on a rising escalator. Scientists said El Nino, La Nina, and a few other natural weather variations are like moving up or down on the escalator.

The Arctic will continue to warm during winter at a rate three times greater than the global average. The report predicted that the American Southwest and southwestern Europe will be dryer than usual over the next five-years, but that wetter conditions are possible for Africa’s Sahel region, north Africa, northeast Brazil, and Australia.

The global team has been making these predictions informally for a decade and formally for about five years, with greater than 90% accuracy, Hermanson said. Gavin Schmidt, NASA’s top climate scientist, said that the figures in this report are “a bit warmer” than the U.S. NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He also expressed doubts about his ability to make long-term regional forecasts.

“Regardless of what is predicted here, we are very likely to exceed 1.5 degrees C in the next decade or so, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are committed to this in the long term — or that working to reduce further change is not worthwhile,” Schmidt said in an email.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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