Global temperatures are likely to surge to record levels in the next five years, fuelled by heat-trapping greenhouse gasses and a naturally occurring El Niño event, according to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
There is a 66% likelihood that the annual average near-surface global temperature between 2023 and 2027 will be more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year, WMO said. There is also a 98% likelihood that at least one of the next five years, and the five-year period as a whole, will be the warmest on record. So far, the warmest was 2016, when there was an exceptionally strong El Niño.
“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris Agreement which refers to long-term warming over many years. However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
The cooling influence of La Niña conditions have temporarily reined in the longer-term warming trend
The Paris Agreement sets long-term goals to guide all nations to substantially reduce global GHG emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2°C while pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5 °C.
The average global temperature in 2022 was about 1.15°C above the 1850-1900 average, while the cooling influence of La Niña conditions over much of the past three years temporarily reined in the longer-term warming trend.
La Niña ended in March and an El Niño is on its way
But, according to the WMO report, La Niña ended in March 2023 and an El Niño is forecast to develop in the coming months. Typically, El Niño increases global temperatures in the year after it develops – in this case, this would be 2024.
“A warming El Niño is expected to develop in the coming months and this will combine with human-induced climate change to push global temperatures into uncharted territory,” Taalas said.
He added it would have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management and the environment. “We need to be prepared,” Taalas warned.
There is only a 32% chance that the five-year mean will exceed the 1.5°C threshold, according to the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, produced by the United Kingdom’s Met Office, the WMO’s lead centre for such predictions.
The chance of temporarily exceeding 1.5°C has risen steadily since 2015, when it was close to zero. For the years between 2017 and 2021, there was a 10% chance of exceedance, WMO said.