50% chance of exceeding key global warming mark of 1.5°C by 2026 - should we be worried?

Words by ITV News Science Producer Philip Sime

There is around a 50% chance that our planet will temporarily warm by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels at some point over the next five years, according to a new study led by the UK’s Met Office.

The 2015 Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Breaching this temperature limit in one year wouldn’t mean that the Paris Agreement is broken, but scientists say it would illustrate that there is an increasingly thin margin between the target set at COP21 in Paris and where we are now.

“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,” said Professor Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

“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."

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Today’s Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, which was produced with the WMO, also revealed a 93% chance that the average global temperature for 2022-2026 will be higher than the average for the last five years.

It means it’s very likely that one year out of the next five will overtake 2016 to become the warmest on record.

Our climate system is variable and weather patterns influence global temperature averages.

For example, back-to-back La Niña events at the start and end of last year had a cooling effect on global temperatures. But experts say this is only temporary and will not reverse the long-term global warming trend.

In 2021, the global average temperature was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels, according to a provisional WMO report which is set to be released later this month.

The 2015 Paris Agreement set the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

“If you look at the rise of one degree above pre-industrial levels, it didn’t take that long between the first exceedance and to be regularly exceeding that on an average basis,” Grahame Madge, climate spokesperson for the Met Office, told ITV News.

And that’s why experts say urgent action is now needed to reduce emissions and prevent temperatures creeping any higher.

“We absolutely need to redouble our efforts to reduce emissions both in the UK and across the world,” Professor Rebecca Willis, who works on energy and climate governance at Lancaster University, told ITV News.

“What we need to see is really clear, confident and unequivocal commitments from government leaders that the climate crisis is the overarching priority.

"There’s no trade-off between a stable climate and a stable economy. If we don’t tackle climate change, that will cause untold economic damage,” Professor Willis added.

There are just under six months until COP27 in Egypt and with the impacts of our changing planet becoming ever clearer, the calls for action look set to only get louder.