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There’s a 50-50 chance we’ll exceed a doomsday climate threshold in the next 5 years

May 11, 2022, 10:20 AM UTC

On Monday, the U.K. Met Office—the national weather and climate service—warned that global warming could surpass the crucial 1.5 degree heating threshold defined in the 2015 Paris Agreement within the next five years, sparking a wave of news coverage.

Not to undermine the importance of the announcement—after all, the fact does bear repeating—but that headline-generating warning sounds familiar.

In April, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the time to ward off 1.5 degrees of global heating was “now or never,” warning the benchmark could be passed by the end of the century if global greenhouse gas emissions don’t peak by 2025.

Admittedly, the U.K. Met Office’s calculation of 1.5 degrees warming within the next five years is much sooner than “by the end of the century” suggests.

But there’s an important caveat to the Met Office report: the meteorological group isn’t predicting average temperatures for the next five years will rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the office just expects one of the next five years will hit that marker.

“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,” Leon Hermanson, the Met Office report’s lead, said.

Consistently riding above 1.5 degrees would be devastating. If the global mean temperature rises 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the frequency of extreme heat events—deadly heat waves and droughts—will quadruple from once a decade to four times a decade. At 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures, roughly 70% of the world’s coral will be lost, decimating natural ecosystems.

But it appears inevitable that global warming will surpass 1.5 degrees warming in the next 80 years. In fact, Hermanson’s claim that we are “edging ever closer” to that future is underselling the situation. The most remarkable thing about the Met Office’s report is how quickly the world has raced towards this point.

According to the Met Office, the chance of global temperatures breaching that iconic warming point in one of the next five years is around 50%. Back in 2017 the likelihood of hitting the 1.5 degree mark in five years was only 10% and, in 2015, scientists put the likelihood at close to 0%.

Clearly, signatories of the 2015 Paris Agreement haven’t done enough to cool rising temperatures. Yet the IPCC notes there is hope that global temperature rises can be clawed back down below 1.5 degrees within the next century—if we act now.

Eamon Barrett
eamon.barrett@fortune.com
@eamonbarrett88

CARBON COPY

Selling assets isn’t reducing emissions

Some oil giants are selling oil fields to cut the volume of greenhouse gas emissions on their books. But often the climate records of the buyers acquiring these fields are less clean and less transparent than those of the company selling. This transition of oil ownership from large, scrutable giants to smaller, obscure operators is one reason why some climate campaigners have argued against fossil fuel divestment. Removing funding doesn’t always leave things clean. NYT

Airlines are flighty

Research from environmental group Possible found that, in the past two decades, international airlines have missed all but one of 50 climate goals set by themselves. "Companies set grand-sounding targets with a lot of fanfare and announcement. They talk about them for a couple of years—then the targets sink without trace, never to be seen again," Leo Murray from Possible said. BBC

Mining for votes

Australia is preparing for its federal election on May 21 and climate change is the leading issue on the ballot. Australia, a major exporter of minerals and coal, lags far behind other developed nations on its climate goals. In Canberra, politics, business and pollution are all too closely linked, with coal country states serving as crucial swing vote districts. But both international and domestic pressure is building against Australia’s poor climate record, and the next election could be a crucial time for getting the country on course. Bloomberg

BlackRock prepares to say no

BlackRock says it expects to vote against more shareholder resolutions on climate change this year, despite the asset manager pledging in 2020 to serve as a steward for eco-conscious investments. According to BlackRock, a change in U.S. rules has made it easier for shareholders to get proposals on the ballot, diluting the number of good ideas. BlackRock says it is particularly wary of motions calling for fossil fuel divestment, asset decommissioning, and setting “absolute scope 3” emission reduction targets. FT

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

High hopes for the new UN panel to set greenwashing standards by Rachel Layne

Musk’s SpaceX rocket launches may be wiping out endangered birds, putting his FAA approval in limbo by Sophie Mellor

The race is on to build the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper—and re-imagine the urban skyline by Bernhard Warner

Europe has just months to replace nearly half its energy supplies by cutting off Russia. It’s not a sure thing at all by Tristan Bove

Shell CEO points out loopholes in Russian oil sanctions after announcing record profits by Chloe Taylor

EU’s Russian oil ban hits the skids after right-wing leader Viktor Orbán compares sanctions to ‘atomic bomb’ by Chloe Taylor

CLOSING NUMBER

40%

The EU has a target of generating 40% of its electricity needs from renewable resources by 2030 but, according to the Financial Times, the bloc could increase that target next week, as the group’s governing body races to reduce its reliance on Russian gas imports. Boosting the electricity mix beyond 40% renewable generation before the end of the decade will require cutting corners, however. The FT says the bloc will waive the need for power companies to perform environmental impact assessments for wind and solar projects if the projects are built in certain “go-to” areas—land the EU’s 27 member states would be obliged to earmark as development zones for the accelerated approvals plan. 

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