The deadly heat waves that have gripped nations in recent years are likely about to get much worse.
On Wednesday, the World Meteorological Organization announced that data and models show the planet is on track to have its hottest year ever for at least one of the next five years — and that the planet will likely surpass a major climate change threshold.
The last global heat record was reached in 2016 during El Niño, a climate pattern that naturally occurs every few years when Pacific Ocean surface temperatures warm.
After that period, El Niño’s counter, La Niña, occurred, allowing ocean surface temperatures to cool. But just days ago, NOAA announced that El Niño is about to make its comeback.
“It’s practically sure that we will see the warmest year on record in the coming five years once this La Niña phase is over,” Petteri Taalas, World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General, said during a U.N. press conference on Wednesday, citing data and modeling from 18 global research centers that indicates a 98% likelihood.
He said that the record will be due to a combination of the climate pattern and climate change.
WINK News Meteorologist Greg Rule added, “Following a warm March and April, and with a potential strong El Nino this summer, it’s looking more likely that 2023 becomes the warmest year on record. The sharp transition towards El Nino over the last few months has adjusted our expectations to this years expected continued warmth.”
This record will likely come as the world also surpasses a major and daunting milestone.
“There’s a 66% chance that we would exceed 1.5 degrees during the coming five years,” Taalas said, pointing to global temperatures compared to pre-industrial times. “And there’s a 33% probability that we will see the whole coming five years exceeding that threshold.”
At that threshold, most areas on land will experience hotter days, with roughly 14% of the planet’s population “exposed to severe heatwaves “at least once every five years,” according to NASA. The U.N. has also warned that at this amount of global warming, precipitation and droughts will both be more frequent and intense, and that there will be far greater risks related to energy, food and water.
Indonesia, the Amazon and Central America will likely see less rainfall already this year, Taalas said, while Europe, Alaska and northern Siberia are expected to have “above average” rainfall in the summer months over the next five years.
Adam Scaife, who worked on the climate update and works for the U.K. Met Office, told Reuters that this marks “the first time in history that it’s more likely than not that we will exceed 1.5C.”
One of the most dramatic changes from this is expected to be seen in the Arctic, Taalas said, a region that has already seen more than double the warming the rest of the planet has experienced.
“In the coming five years, the estimation is that Arctic temperatures will be three times the global averages,” he said. “…That’s going to have big impacts on the ecosystems there.”
For Taalas, the most worrisome part of this information is that it indicates “we are still moving in the wrong direction.”
“This is demonstrating that climate change is proceeding and once we extract this impact of natural variability caused by El Niño…it’s demonstrating that we are again moving in the wrong direction when it comes to increases of temperatures,” he said.
Leon Hermanson from the U.K. Meteorological Office said during the press conference that his biggest concern is the impacts related to the increase in temperature.
“Nobody is going to be untouched by these changes that are happening, that have happened. And it’s leading already to floods across the world, droughts, big movements of people,” he said. “And I think that’s what we need to work better to understand in terms of what this report implies for those things.”
But if the world does pass 1.5 degrees, Hermanson said, “it’s not a reason to give up.”
“We need to emit as few as possible of the greenhouse gases,” he said. Earlier this year, NOAA issued a report saying that three of the most significant contributors to climate change, emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, all had “historically high rates of growth” in 2022 that pushed them into “uncharted levels.”
“Any emissions that we manage to cut will reduce the warming and this will reduce these extreme impacts that we’ve been talking about,” Hermanson said.
But regardless of what comes within the next few years, Taalas made one thing clear: “There’s no return to the climate that’s persisted in the last century. That’s a fact.”