‘Uncharted territory’ for world as next five years to be hottest ever

Breaching 1.5C threshold likely to bring catastrophic weather events, World Meteorological Organisation report forecasts

Escalating climate change threatens the survival of polar bears in the Arctic. Photo: Reuters© via REUTERS

Caroline O'Doherty

It is now almost certain that the next five years will be the warmest on record – and Ireland will not be immune to the consequences.

The latest report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) forecasts a 98pc chance that 2023-2027 will bring new temperature highs.

For those concerned with climate, the health of the planet and all the life on it, that represents a whole new set of lows.

“This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food, security, water management and the environment,” said WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas.

We are entering uncharted territory, he said. “We need to be prepared.”

Uncharted it may be, but not unforeseen.

Countless warnings had been given that the global temperature was rising and that it would breach the feared 1.5C threshold sooner rather than later if greenhouse gas emissions were not dramatically cut.

Now that point is rapidly approaching. The WMO says it is likely (it has been given a 66pc chance) that 1.5C will be exceeded for at least one year between now and 2027.

At 1.5C, scientists say, climate change will begin to escalate with a speed and ferocity that will make it even more difficult to rein in and roll back.

It is hoped the excess heat will be temporary, fuelled in the short-term by the transient El Niño climate pattern that comes and goes every few years, inflating temperatures during its stay.

That could mean some breathing space remains to get control of the situation, but the speed at which control has been lost is remarkable.

In 2015, when world leaders signed the Paris Agreement, vowing to do everything necessary to keep global warming to 1.5C, the chance of temporarily exceeding that point was zero.

For the years 2017-2021, the likelihood was measured at 10pc. At 66pc now, the odds have taken a giant leap in the wrong direction.

“WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency,” Prof Taalas said.

The logical outcome is that some day, the temporary breaches will join up and become permanent.

What makes these forecasts all the more alarming is that El Niño’s opposite number, La Niña, dominated in recent years but despite its cooling effect, these years were the warmest on record.

Another alarming element is that the forecast is for almost the entire world, with limited exceptions. ​

The Arctic region is an exception, but not in any good way. The temperature anomaly there is expected to be three times the global average.

Met Éireann climatologist Paul Moore drilled down into the forecast for more specifics relating to Ireland.

“The signal for above-average temperatures is very strong pretty much everywhere, including us,” he said.

“The confidence in the rainfall forecast is lower, particularly in Ireland because we are so influenced by the Atlantic.”

However, he found an outlook for western and northern Europe that suggests colder, wetter winters for Ireland over the next five years and warmer, drier summers.

“In the winters there’s definitely a signal for above-average rainfall,” he said. “That’s a continuation of some of the trends we’ve seen in recent years.

“In the past five years we had about 3pc more rainfall than average and over the years 1991-2020, rainfall was 7pc higher than over the previous 30 years.”

El Niño is not expected to take effect until late summer, and then there is usually a lag of three to six months before its full impact on temperatures is evident.

However, already this year, parts of the world are suffering soaring temperatures far above normal.

Areas of North America are already in heatwave before the summer has even begun.

Closer to home, drought and high temperatures are causing severe hardship for farmers, industry and communities in France and Spain.

Large swathes of Spain have been put under a severe risk of fire warning. In Catalonia, in the north-east of the country, a “very extreme” classification was applied. It doesn’t get higher.

The search for one small positive to take away from the report led to the forecast for higher-than-average rainfall in the Horn of Africa.

Given the deadly drought that has killed millions in the region in the past three years, that sounds like good news.

“La Niña definitely had a big impact there so the switch to El Niño could well bring rain,” said Mr Moore.

“But then it could lead to drought in other parts, such as Australia.”

There is no real good news.

As the report was being digested, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan was appearing before the Oireachtas Transport Committee to discuss plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the sector.

He noted with concern the WMO report and the urgency that it placed on everyone to turn plans into action.

“The risk of reaching tipping points means we have to do everything we can in every sector to play our part,” he said.

More Analysis

Top Stories