Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dixie-Fire-California-2600x1361

A home burns as flames from the Dixie Fire tear through the Indian Falls neighborhood of unincorporated Plumas County, California on July 24, 2021. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

'Our House Is Truly on Fire': Earth Now Has 50% Chance of Hitting 1.5°C of Warming by 2026

"The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic," said the head of the World Meteorological Organization. "It is rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet."

Jake Johnson

The World Meteorological Organization warned Monday that the planet now faces a 50% chance of temporarily hitting 1.5°C of warming above pre-industrial levels over the next five years, another signal that political leaders—particularly those of the rich nations most responsible for carbon emissions—are failing to rein in fossil fuel use.

"For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise."

In 2015, by comparison, the likelihood of briefly reaching or exceeding 1.5°C of global warming over the ensuing five-year period was estimated to be "close to zero," the WMO noted in a new climate update. The report was published amid a deadly heatwave on the Indian subcontinent that scientists say is a glimpse of what's to come if runaway carbon emissions aren't halted. Thus far, the heatwave has killed dozens in India and Pakistan.

Signatories to the Paris climate accord have agreed to act to limit the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C—preferably to 1.5°C—by the end of the century. Climate advocates have deemed the 1.5°C target "on life support" following world leaders' refusal to commit to more ambitious action at the COP26 summit in Glasgow late last year.

"We are getting measurably closer to temporarily reaching the lower target of the Paris Agreement," Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general of the WMO, said in a statement Monday. "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."

"For as long as we continue to emit greenhouse gases, temperatures will continue to rise," Taalas added. "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."

Dr. Leon Hermanson, a climate expert at the U.K. Met Office who led the WMO report, stressed that a short-lived breach of the 1.5°C threshold would not mean that the world is guaranteed to fall short of the Paris accord's most ambitious warming target, which climate experts and campaigners have long decried as inadequate.

Such a breach, however, would "reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period," said Hermanson.

The WMO's latest research also estimates that there is a 93% chance that at least one year between 2022 and 2026 will be the warmest on record. Currently, 2016 and 2020 are tied for the top spot.

Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C by 2100, countless people across the globe will still face devastating heatwaves, droughts, and other extreme weather, with the poor facing the worst consequences.

Meanwhile, key ecosystems could be damaged beyond repair in a 1.5°C hotter world. One recent study found that 99% of the world's coral reefs would experience heatwaves that are "too frequent for them to recover" if the planet gets 1.5°C warmer compared to pre-industrial levels.

Scientists behind the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report cautioned last month that if there's to be any hope of keeping warming to 1.5°C or below by 2100, "it's now or never."

"Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible," said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Brazil Votes Live: Lula Wins the First Round Over Far-Right Bolsonaro; Run-Off Oct. 30

Lula took the lead as more rural votes counted but failed to reach 50%

Common Dreams staff ·


'Enough is Enough': Hundreds of Thousands March Across the UK

'As wages fall while profits soar, our message is clear... We are here to win.'

Common Dreams staff ·


California Gov. Newsom Proposes Windfall Profits Tax on Big Oil

Calls for windfall profits taxes have increased globally in recent weeks

Common Dreams staff ·


'Incredible': Omar and Khanna Staffers Join Levin's Office in Unionizing

"It is long past time the United States Congress became a unionized workplace, and that includes my own staff," said Rep. Ilhan Omar. "I am proud of all the people on my team who have played a leading role in the staff unionization effort. Solidarity forever."

Jessica Corbett ·


Destructive Hurricanes Fuel Calls for Biden to Declare Climate Emergency

"Mother Nature is not waiting for the president or Congress to declare a climate emergency. She's showing us in real-time here in the United States—with wildfires, floods, heatwaves, hurricanes, and drought."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo