Extreme Temperature Diary- Thursday December 14th, 2023/Main Topic: World Careens Above +1.5°C This Year and in 2024

Planet to cross key climate change threshold, analysis says – The Washington Post

The planet is warming so fast, it could cross a key climate limit in 2024

New research shows the planet on track to top a warming benchmark next year. Many at COP28 remain hopeful the world can avoid that threshold.

By Chico HarlanScott DanceTimothy Puko and Maxine Joselow

DUBAI — Global temperatures are poised to surpass a key climate threshold many thought was still years away — so quickly that some climate activists and scientists say world leaders should give up on the pretense they can still prevent disastrous levels of warming.

Britain’s Meteorological Office warned last week that next year’s average global temperature could breach a key planetary warming benchmark: 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. While that wouldn’t mark a permanent crossing of the barrier — natural fluctuations could make temperatures dip back below it the following year — remaining above it for a longer period of time would induce catastrophic sea-level rise and make extreme heat a threat to life for 2 billion people. This year, the planet is on its brink.

And yet, the 1.5C warming target, which nations adopted in Paris in 2015, remains centralto an agreement reached Wednesday at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Dubai. The pact calls for a transition away from fossil fuels in the decades ahead, an unprecedented declaration on the global stage.

“This keeps 1.5 alive, but only if all countries, all actors within this fulfill their commitments,” said top U.N. climate official Simon Stiell.

Stiell had previously asserted that any new climate pact could not include “compromises” on the 1.5-degree target. U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry called it a “critical guidepost.” The president of this year’s climate summit, Sultan Al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates, called it his “North Star,” while downplaying how dramatically humans would need to curtail fossil fuel to achieve it.

Others now deem the goal little more than wishful thinking.

Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Cicero Center for International Climate Research in Norway, called it “increasingly embarrassing” to say the 1.5C goal is still within reach. Famed climate scientist James Hansen recently called 1.5 “deader than a doornail” and on Friday said that anyone who claims otherwise is “lying.”

It “now looks inevitable” that global warming will surge past the 1.5C mark, said Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute. That might suggest climate talks should instead hinge on whether and how humans could one day bring global temperatures back down below that threshold, instead of averting it altogether.

The emphasis on the 1.5C goal added a note of dissonance as policymakers at the U.N. conference, known as COP28, searched for ways to cut emissions. Some speakers in Dubai delivered their remarks about 1.5C with a pep talk fervor, and banners around the venue recited platitudes such as “Hope inspires Action.”

Climate watchers say they understand why the messaging has not kept pace with the dire science. The 1.5C goal is an issue of politics and even, for some nations, survival. Smaller, low-lying countries fought to include that target in the Paris accords, and scientists have worried about how society might respond if there is widespread acknowledgment that the 1.5C target is lost. Some fear public disengagement, or a relaxation of emissions-cutting policies, if defeat is admitted.

For now, the target is being used as a cudgel. Because extreme-weather risks will continue to grow with every fractional degree of warming, the world still needs action to reduce planet-warming emissions.

“If you’re a pilot on an airplane that might crash, at some point you have the obligation to tell your passengers to brace for impact,” said Alex Flint, who has been to five COPs and runs the Alliance for Market Solutions, a conservative group in Washington that advocates for carbon taxes as a solution to climate change. “Well, it’s time to brace for impact.”

An unexpected surge of global heat

A surge of global temperatures that began this summer provided an initial picture of how a planet 1.5 degrees hotter will look: Unprecedented heat at the limits of human survival. Antarctic sea ice astonishingly far below its record minimum. Devastating floods, fires and other weather extremes that have been linked to climate change.

Then, temperature anomalies continued to accelerate through Northern Hemisphere autumn, and scientists said that planetary temperatures probably surpassed 2 degrees Celsius of warming above preindustrial levels for at least a couple of days.

The warming is especially alarming because it has been more extreme than scientists expected at the start of the year.

In March, a monthly analysis by Berkeley Earth climate scientist Robert Rohde, for example, suggested that 2023 would “most likely” end up the third-, fourth- or fifth-warmest year on record. Rohde added that “considerable uncertainty remains, including the possibility of 2023 becoming a record warm year.”

But the chances of record annual average global temperatures skyrocketed to 81 percent halfway through the year, Rohde calculated, and a record became a virtual certainty after July became the Earth’s hottest single month on record.

The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency, said this month that 2023 is indeed certain to break an annual global warmth record set in 2016 and tied in 2020. The WMO predicted that average global temperatures will end up at least 1.3 degrees Celsius warmer than a preindustrial reference period, but shy of 1.5 degrees of warming.

As countries gathered at COP28, a study by the Global Carbon Project found that efforts to transform worldwide energy usage aren’t making a dent in greenhouse gas emissions. The team of scientists projected that the temperature of the planet could consistently exceed the 1.5C threshold within seven years if emission levels hold.

And then Britain’s Met Office predicted last week that, in 2024, global temperatures stand a chance of averaging more than 1.5 degrees higher than from 1850 to 1900, a benchmark period from before humans’ fossil fuel consumption began adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and warming the planet.

Current trends and an expected acceleration from an ongoing El Niño climate pattern are likely to mean that in 2024, global temperatures will average somewhere between 1.34 and 1.58 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms, the Met Office predicted.

Nick Dunstone, a Met Office scientist who led the forecast, said such a level of warming “would certainly be a milestone in climate history.”

Many alarmed by speed toward 1.5C

Even if the planet warms beyond the 1.5-degree mark next year, it wouldn’t mean the world has missed the ambitious target set in Paris in 2015 to limit warming to that level. The goal would not be considered out of reach until global temperature averages rise above that threshold for multiple years in a row, something scientists project will occur around 2030 unless greenhouse gas emissions drastically diminish in the next few years.

But the speed with which the planet has begun to flirt with the 1.5C mark is nonetheless raising alarm.

Though there is a theoretical pathway for the world to meet the 1.5 goal, it would require such dramatic and immediate emissions cuts that scientists say it is virtually inconceivable. Scientists convened by the United Nations say the world would have to cut greenhouse gas emissions 43 percent by 2030. That would mean annual reductions that mirror what happened in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, which coincided with the greatest economic crisis in more than a century.

“The math, I suppose you can say it’s technically possible,” said Alden Meyer, a senior associate at the climate think tank E3G who has attended 27 of 28 summits. “But it is politically impossible.”

Far more than the rhetoric, the detailed policymaking of COP reflects the harsh trajectory ahead. World powers are increasingly recognizing they need to step up funding for adaptation and for the losses and damage climate change has inflicted on poor and vulnerable countries — which became the near-focal point of COP27 last year in Egypt.

The latest sign came Friday evening, in a newly released public update on the draft of the final agreement under debate in Dubai. In a call with reporters, researchers at E3G and the World Resources Institute said it contained much stronger additions for such money, especially adaptation funding.

It gave more detail on how urgent the need is for this funding in the developing world, and that accelerated support is critical to raising more money and protecting these countries, they said. It also made a new call for stimulus packages for developing countries, likely to become more common in the debate over climate finance, said Tom Evans, a policy adviser at E3G.

These changes are being driven by an increasing recognition of how far the world is away from reaching the 1.5-degree goal, said Gabrielle Swaby, a research associate at the World Resources Institute. The severe damage caused to developing countries has forced leaders to acknowledge the problem and grapple with the fact that the further out of control global warming gets, the more it adds to the cost of everything – reducing emissions, adapting to climate change and compensating hard-hit countries, she said.

“Science is telling us, showing us how much less of the carbon budget is available,” Swaby said. “The costs of inaction are greater than the costs of action at this stage.”

Scientists say it’s conceivable that the planet will warm above 1.5 but temperatures will come back down later, either because of natural systems over decades and centuries or with the help of technology that pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, compared the 1.5C target to other goals that society keeps falling short of.

“We don’t want anybody to die of car accidents. We don’t want to have anybody die of preventable disease,” he said. “But still they do. Does it mean we should not strive to reduce the number of deaths from car accidents or preventable diseases? No. We have to keep on pushing for the lowest number we can get.”

Dance reported from Baltimore.

By Chico HarlanScott DanceTimothy Puko and Maxine Joselow

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