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Forty percent chance Earth will exceed COP21 climate goals in coming years, according to research

By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Delegates at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change on Earth Day 2016, which saw 174 countries sign the historic Paris agreement – to which India is a signatory and has since ratified.
At a time when international countries have their sights firmly set on the COP26, research issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has suggested that there is roughly a forty percent chance annual average global temperatures will temporarily push past the limit set out in the COP21 climate agreement in at least one of the next five years. 

According to the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update produced by the WMO, a specialised agency of the United Nations, there is an increasing probability that global temperatures will temporarily exceed the ‘1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels’ Paris Agreement goal. This probability is thought to have doubled compared to last year’s predictions, due in part to the use of an improved temperature dataset offering accurate baseline predictions. 

Forecasting for the coming years, the WMO suggests there could be a ninety percent chance that at least one year between 2021 and2025 will eclipse the current standings for the warmest year on record, currently measured in 2016. 

“This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – that we are getting measurably and inexorably closer to the lower target of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It is yet another wakeup call that the world needs to fast-track commitments to slash greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas. “Technological advances now make it possible to track greenhouse gas emissions back to their sources as a means of precisely targeting reduction efforts.” 

What does this mean in the context of the COP21 agreement?

In 2020, temperature readings from the WMO showed that the global average temperature was 1.2 degrees above the pre-industrial baseline, yet the coming years could see us exceed that.  

The Paris Agreement adopted by 195 parties in 2015 stated that nations would seek to keep the global temperature well-below 2 degrees, whilst pursuing further efforts to limit it below 1.5 degrees. To achieve this, each country set out their own nationally determined contributions (NDCs) contributing to the historical move with global implications. As Health Issues India previously reported, India’s NDCs include a pledge to reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 33-35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, development of an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to three billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, and expansion of non-fossil-fuel-based energy by 2030. 

Yet in light of research suggesting that there is a forty percent chance annual average global temperatures will temporarily push past 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels in the next five years, NDCs may possibly need to be revisited. 

Why does this forecast matter for India?

Alongside estimates, the study projects the effect of the temperature increases may possibly have a knock-on effect on rainfall and the frequency of high intensity tropical cyclones, such as Nivar which devastated southern India in December 2020. “These are more than just statistics,” Taalas said. “Increasing temperatures mean more melting ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves and other extreme weather, and greater impacts on food security, health, the environment and sustainable development.”

For example, in 2021, India recorded the third warmest March in the last 121 with a mean monthly maximum temperature of 32.65 degrees. These statistics matter more now than ever with the suggestion that even those most well-equipped countries – those with the resources and financial clout to be able to implement adaptation methods – will see an extra 73 deaths per 100,000 caused by excessive heat. 

Insights such as those provided by the WMO should form part of the political, scientific discussions that will inform how we set goals and implement mitigation and adaptation strategies. In the same way that RCP emission modelling holds value in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports, findings that offer insight into climate change projections for the immediate future should hold value, especially in countries that are as susceptible to temperature change as India. 

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