Sustainability Blog

Heat of the Moment – 50:50 for 1.5 in 5

By Apurva Gosalia - May 13, 2022

For weeks, blistering heat has swept across India, Pakistan and other parts of South Asia, leaving millions of people struggling to survive and birds dropping from the sky. The extreme temperatures first began in early March, with temperatures reaching above 47 degrees Celsius in India by the end of April and 49.5 C in Pakistan in May. 

Last month was the third-hottest April India has seen in the past 122 years, according to official government statistics, and March was the hottest ever recorded in the country. 

Across South Asia, the sweltering temperatures have been linked to an uptick in heat-related deaths, crop failures, power cuts and fires – with poor and marginalized communities particularly affected. 

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Climate change – largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels – has contributed to an increase in the frequency and severity of heatwaves in every world region, including South Asia, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The world’s leading climate authority had predicted this development in August 2021.

There is a 50:50 chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5 C above the pre-industrial level for at least one of the next five years – and the likelihood is increasing with time, according to the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update, produced by the United Kingdom’s Met Office for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and released at the beginning of this week. 

The chance of temporarily exceeding 1.5 C has risen steadily since 2015, when it was close to zero. For the years between 2017 and 2021, there was a 10% chance of exceedance.

There is also a 93% likelihood of at least one year between 2022 and 2026 becoming the warmest ever on record globally and dislodging 2016 from the top ranking. The chance of the five-year average global temperature for 2022-2026 being higher than the last five years (2017-2021) is also 93%.

The annual update harnesses the expertise of internationally acclaimed climate scientists and the best prediction systems from leading climate centers around the world to produce actionable information for decision-makers.

“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. 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,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. 

“For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise. And alongside that, our oceans will continue to become warmer and more acidic, sea ice and glaciers will continue to melt, sea level will continue to rise and our weather will become more extreme. Arctic warming is disproportionately high and what happens in the Arctic affects all of us,” he said.

Leon Hermanson of the Met Office added: “A single year of exceedance above 1.5 C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris Agreement, but it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5 C could be exceeded for an extended period.”

In 2021 alone, the global average temperature was 1.1 C above the pre-industrial baseline, according to the provisional WMO report on the State of the Global Climate. The final State of the Global Climate report for 2021 will be released next week on 18 May.

Coming back to heat in Asia – of course this reminded me of the respective 40-year-old song by English progressive rock group Asia called “Heat Of The Moment” from 1982. The lyrics are an abject apology for dreadful behavior toward a particular lady. I was thinking, what if that lady were “Mother Earth”? 

The first line of the song’s lyrics starts as follows: “I never meant to be so bad to you …” Mankind is in the heat of the moment of what is happening right now and what it can still change.

STAY SuSTAYnable!

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