The 1.5° danger mark is glaring at the globe now

Representative image (Reuters)
Representative image (Reuters)


A global heat record may be set by at least one year from 2023 to 2027, with the 1.5° Celsius red line likelier to be breached than not. We need not despair if we speed up climate action

There is a two-thirds chance that the 1.5° Celsius danger mark for our planet’s warm-up will be hit within half a decade, reckons the United Nation’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which released its latest set of forecasts for the global average last Wednesday. We need not break into a cold sweat. Nor act rashly just to subdue a creeping sense of panic over a crisis we all have a stake in but cannot resolve unless we are ready to clasp hands and avert tragedy in unison. The scenario, though, is grimmer than it looked only a few years ago. After the exhaust of a century-and-a-half turned the Earth’s atmosphere into a heat trap, we had scarcely begun to clean it up, but we already stare at mercury headed for a degree-and-a-half above our pre-industrial average (for 1850-1900, i.e.). Under the Paris pact of 2015, this was the best-case cap we hoped to place on global warming. Why 1.5° Celsius? As scientists warned, it’s the point after which we can expect the ecological ill-effects of all this extra heat to proliferate rapidly, perhaps even spike.

The WMO’s estimate of our likelihood of hitting that 1.5° red line in at least one of five successive years has risen from negligible back in 2015 and under a fifth in 2020 to nearly half last year and 66% now. By 2027, thus, we have more than even odds of a red-alert year. Should it happen, we will have to check if it’s only a blip. Given how widely temperature can vary, a long trend can only be spotted on the basis of a rolling average over many readings. If we take appropriate time spans for analysis, we will not be able to confirm a breach of the Paris cap till 2040 or so. By then, going by today’s emission path, it would likely be too late. So, while saving life forms from mass extinction and misery is not a lost cause yet, we must not lose time on mounting a survival response. We must fight, not flee. What the WMO is almost sure of is that a hottest-on-record year is upon us in the next half decade. Climate change need not be the sole culprit, though. The cyclical El Niño effect likely in 2023 could bake land masses more than usual in tropical Asia (and elsewhere). In such a phase, as trade winds blowing west weaken, a great bulk of warm water slops back across the Pacific Ocean with the globe’s eastward spin on its axis to warp our weather. The tilt of El Niño’s ocean warmth away from Asia towards America is hard to forecast (as with a reversal called La Niña we’ve had for three years), so it’s hard to tell how dry and hot the Indo-Pacific zone might get this year (or next) if its rain-granting wind and water inflows lose force, but we do know that our carbon trap could worsen the thermo impact. And then extraneous factors like volcanic eruptions can cause temporary warming as well.

Right now, the world’s heat record is held by 2016, with its average of nearly 1.3° above the pre-1900 base. A notch-up is expected soon. As a variable, it has risen relentlessly for decades. As a threat, it looms closer than we’d thought. When Keynes said we’ll all be dead in the long run, he was referring to the time an economy would take to reach a balance on its own. With the ecosphere, what pollution has pushed out of whack will not fix itself. The equilibrium lost is for us to restore. We must not just stall, but reverse climate change at the earliest. The long run has already been run, for the most part, and we must scramble to keep mercury and mortality levels down.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.