EXETER, United Kingdom — The Paris climate agreement may fail in its goal by as early as next year, a new study reveals. Scientists estimate that global warming will hit 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels — the worldwide agreement’s self-imposed climate limit. As for what is driving up global temperatures, the study finds that the weather phenomenon known as the El Niño is to blame.
British scientists say average temperatures may rise by 0.3°C, or more than half-a-degree Fahrenheit. This would come on top of the existing 1.2°C increase since the late 19th century, fueled by carbon dioxide emissions and other human activities. Altogether, it would mean the international accord signed in 2015 didn’t last a decade before breaching its targeted goals — temporarily, at least.
“If you add on a big El Niño then we are going to get close, potentially, to the first year of 1.5 degrees,” says lead author Professor Adam Scaife of the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office, according to a statement from SWNS.
The study is based on an analysis of El Niño and another climate pattern called La Niña, which causes temperatures to fall. Computer modelling shows that the current three-year La Niña phase will end in March 2023, followed by El Niño.
“At the moment, the vast majority of forecasts are going into El Niño in the latter half of 2023,” Prof. Scaife tells SWNS.
The fluctuating cycles are driven by sea surface changes in the equatorial Pacific. Scientists declare the start of El Niño when temperatures in the tropical eastern area reach 0.5°C above the long-term average, and La Niña when they drop below that mark. Both events trigger dramatic shifts across the planet, ranging from heatwaves in Britain and Australia to rainfall in South America and wildfires in the United States.
El Niño can also drive up the global average temperatures while it lasts. Now, study authors are fearing a strong shift later this year. In December 2022, the Met Office predicted the anticipated swing will lead to 2023 being one of Earth’s hottest on record. It could bring rain to parts of Chile, Argentina, and the American southwest — which experienced lengthy droughts as a result of La Niña.
It may also disrupt Indonesia’s monsoon season, impacting rice production and increase the risk of severe heatwaves and wildfires in Australia. Warmer seas also bring a heightened threat of bleaching in tropical coral reefs. Even a mild El Niño will raise global temperatures, but not enough to breach the 1.5°C target.
“It is probably a better than 50/50 bet there will be an El Niño. How big it is going to be is anybody’s guess,” says Prof. David Battisti from the University of Washington in Seattle, according to SWNS.
The Paris Agreement’s goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.