Nasa scientists predict that the relentless increase in global temperatures will continue this year, bringing even more disruptive weather that is the signature calling card of accelerating climate breakdown.
New Scientist reported that, according to the UK’s Meteorological Office, "a global shift to an El Niño climate pattern later this year could pave the way for the world to breach +1.5°C of warming for the first time in 2024."
When speaking of global mean temperatures and climate change targets, +1.5°C is not a figure to be met or achieved, it is a threshold, one that we are set to pass in a little over a year. And there is very little we can do about it.
This temperature increase is widely regarded in the scientific community as marking a guard-rail beyond which climate breakdown becomes extremely dangerous. Once we pass this figure, our stable climate will begin to collapse in earnest, affecting every living thing on the planet.
According to Nasa, 2022 was one of the hottest years ever recorded on Earth. This is extraordinary, because the recurrent climate pattern across the tropical Pacific, known as ENSO - El Niño Southern Oscillation, should have kept the Earth much cooler than it was.
During the ENSO cooling phase, called La Niña, the waters of the equatorial Pacific are noticeably cooler than normal, which influences weather patterns around the world.
Although La Niña brings its own extreme weather to parts of the planet, it also helps keep a lid on global temperatures. This means that, despite the recent widespread heat waves, wildfires and droughts, we have actually been spared the worst of global heating in 2022.
Now here's the scary part, this supposedly cooler La Niña period will eventually transition into its warmer sibling, El Niño and when it does, the extreme weather which rampaged across our planet in 2021 and 2022 will pale in comparison to what's to come.
So what does this actually mean on the ground? Well, higher temperatures will mean that severe drought will continue to be the order of the day, slashing crop yields in many parts of the world.
According to the UN Environment Programme, last year, extreme weather resulted in reduced crop harvests in China, India, South America and Europe which led to increased food insecurity.
Lower harvests mean lower stocks in storage, and with 2023 likely to yield another bad harvest, the outlook for global food security is not looking great.
Higher temperatures along the tropics will bring an increase in frequency and severity of tropical cyclones which will in turn lead to flooding and further damage to crops and livestock.
Naomi Sheehan, an Ireland-based sustainable development scientist said on LinkedIn that “this could include the onset of civilisation and humanitarian collapse, and yes, many non-privileged global south people would argue this is already happening, it's just unevenly distributed globally.”
“Completely understandable when you consider the number of countries already in humanitarian crisis,” Sheehan said, referring to a World Food Programme finding that 46 countries are experiencing “severe food crisis and could fall into famine unless they receive immediate lifesaving support.”
The next 12 months will be critical for our planet, especially humanity.