The world’s leading meteorological organization said Monday that there’s a “50:50” chance that we could see warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels by 2026—an incredibly worrying reality check about the runaway pace of climatic changes human beings have created.
In an update issued, an international team of meteorologists with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicted that there’s a 48% chance that average yearly temperatures could temporarily reach that 1.5-degree threshold at least once within the next five years. The 1.5 number is the most aggressive target laid out in the Paris Agreement, in which the world’s governments pledged to keep warming at a minimum under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) while working toward the more difficult 1.5 degrees.
“This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – that we are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a release. “The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic. It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.”
The WMO also predicted that there’s an incredibly high likelihood—more than 90%—that one of the years between this year and 2026 will become the hottest on record. The current hottest-year record holder is 2016, when temperatures averaged 0.94 degrees Celsius (1.69 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average, according to NOAA data.
2026 is not far off. That’s the year of the next Winter Olympics, set to be held in Milan. We’ll be two years into the next presidential administration. Olivia Rodrigo will turn 23 years old. If you buy a can of tuna tomorrow and stick it in your pantry, it will probably still be safe to eat in 2026.
Importantly, the WMO’s prediction does not mean that the Paris Agreement has failed or that we’re too late to do anything about climate change. The world temporarily reaching a 1.5-degree average increase for a year or two is not the same as consistently averaging that increase for a period of decades, which is the change that the Paris Agreement is setting out to prevent.
“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,” NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, who was not involved in the WMO’s analysis, told the AP.
However, this new prediction does offer another loud warning siren about preventing that increase from becoming the new normal. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a bombshell 2018 report that, while a 1.5 degree world is less brutal than one with 2 degrees of warming, it would still result in a variety of impacts, including major biodiversity loss and sea level rise that would devastate communities.
In a separate report issued earlier this year, the IPCC warned that we’ve basically reached a now-or-never point, and we know exactly what to do: stop burning fossil fuels ASAP and start bringing our emissions down.
“For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise,” Taalas said. “And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and our weather will become more extreme.”