New climate report highlights 'enormous challenge ahead' for meeting Paris Agreement goals

The world is struggling to slow the effects of climate change, according to a report released Wednesday by the World Meteorological Organization that outlines new projections for rising temperatures over the next five years.

The so-called Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update states that global average temperatures are likely to be at least 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels each year from 2020 to 2024. The new forecasts also show that there is a 20 percent chance that global average temperatures could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in at least one of those years.

The new outlook, based on models from climate prediction centers around the world, highlights the need for drastic action to curb climate change — particularly if the world has any hope of meeting the goals set out by the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.

“This study shows — with a high level of scientific skill — the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on Climate Change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

Those efforts are likely to be an uphill battle. Earlier this year, an analysis by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the past decade was the planet’s warmest on record, and the past five years have been the warmest since record-keeping began in 1880.

A 2018 report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that Earth has already warmed by 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century and warned that further warming by 1.5 degrees could have catastrophic consequence, including melting ice, extreme heat and rising seas, that may be life-threatening to tens of millions of people around the world.

The WMO report states that over the next five years, almost all regions of the planet are likely to be warmer than in the recent past.

In 2020 alone, the Arctic, which has been in the grips of a heat wave in recent weeks, will likely warm by more than twice as much as the global average, according the WMO. Last month, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk recorded a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), likely setting a new record for the hottest temperature recorded that far north.

The WMO’s projections account for natural climate variations and provide a look at how temperatures, precipitation and wind patterns may change over the next five years. The new outlooks do not, however, include changes in greenhouse gas emissions or other impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

A study published in May in the journal Nature Climate Change found that strict lockdowns and restrictions that banned travel and scaled back economic activity contributed to an estimated 17 percent decline in daily global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions compared to daily global averages from 2019.

The study’s researchers added that the drastic drop could also fuel a decrease in this year’s annual carbon emissions of up to 7 percent, though the declines likely won’t have a long-term impact after countries return to normal.

The WMO stressed that any observed decreases in emissions from the coronavirus pandemic should not replace meaningful action to address climate change.

“Due to the very long lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere, the impact of the drop in emissions this year is not expected to lead to a reduction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations which are driving global temperature increases,” Taalas said.

He added that global warming could have even more far-reaching health and economic consequences than the current global health crisis.

“Failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries,” he said in the statement. “Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programmes and ensure that we grow back better.”