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Key climate goal of 1.5 C increase under threat in next five years

16 May 2022 Keiron Greenhalgh

Six months after the Glasgow Climate Pact was forged at COP26 under the UK presidency, a report crafted by a British government body said the signatories' key aim was at risk of failing at some point in the next five years.

Any one of the next five years has a 50% chance of average annual temperatures temporarily breaching 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the level to which the Glasgow pact and the Paris Agreement sought to restrict global warming, the 9 May study led by the UK Met Office found.

A breach of the 1.5 C threshold grows ever more likely the further the 2020s progress, according to the study published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In comparison, the likelihood of a breach was close to zero in 2015 and between 2017 and 2021 there was a 10% chance.

In addition, there is a 93% likelihood of at least one year between 2022 and 2026 becoming the warmest on record, and dislodging 2016 as the warmest on record, the WMO said. The chance of the five-year average for 2022-2026 being higher than the last five years (2017-2021) is also 93%, according to a preliminary WMO report, the Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update. The final report is set for publication on 18 May.

"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.

In 2021, the global average temperature was 1.1 C above the pre-industrial baseline. Back-to-back La Niña events at the start and end of 2021 had a cooling effect on global temperatures, but this was only temporary and does not reverse the long-term global warming trend, the WMO said. One of the biggest impacts of that trend is increased drought and desertification.

Crossroads on drought

The WMO report was issued as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) got under way in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. Humanity is "at a crossroads" when it comes to managing drought, with the number and duration of droughts having risen 29% since 2000, according to a UNCCD report.

Helping African and other developing nations fight climate change was one of the themes COP26 President Alok Sharma focused on in a January speech, his first following the Glasgow climate talks. Climate change's economic cost to Africa will be $60 billion a year, according to the African Development Bank. Africa, where five out of the 10 countries worst affected by climate change are located, is the continent that will be hurt the most by drought.

One part of a four-point plan Sharma unveiled in January's speech sought progress on adaptation to the creep of desertification and other impacts of climate change. Another was delivering on the $100 billion a year climate finance goal set in Paris to aid developing nations' efforts to tackle global warming and its costs.

In a speech to mark six months since the pact was signed, Sharma touched on those issues and wove in the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially the damage caused to global agricultural commodity flows to the poorest developing countries in Africa.

Sharma said the World Food Programme estimates tens of millions of people will suffer acute hunger if the war in Ukraine continues unabated. Climate change inflates those possibilities, and "every fraction of a degree makes a difference," he said.

In his return to Glasgow, Sharma also noted the war's impact on European energy security fears. "We see the benefits of low cost, homegrown renewables, the price of which cannot be manipulated from afar," he said. Sharma also said he had recently visited Brazil as part of his role as COP chair through the next climate change summit in Egypt.

Record renewables installations

It is not just Africa that struggles with the impact of drought: it hits hydro-electric-heavy power generation stacks hard. For instance, both Brazil and Portugal—each of which sources more than 50% of its power from hydro plants—struggled with the impact of drought in 2021, as did the Western US.

As a result, solar and wind generation is being added at record rates, especially the former, as many of the regions hurt by desertification and drought receive plentiful sunshine and after costs fell more quickly than expected in recent years.

The world added a record 295 GW of new renewable power capacity in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) latest Renewable Energy Market Update. Global capacity additions are expected to rise this year to 320 GW, the IEA said 11 May when releasing the report. Solar PV will account for 60% of global renewable power growth in 2022, it added.

In 2021, a record 168 GW of solar power was installed, launching what SolarPower Europe called the "Solar Terawatt Age." The trade association said in its Global Market Outlook for Solar Power report released 10 May that 2021 was the ninth consecutive year the installation record had been broken and more than 200 GW of solar capacity would be installed for the first time in 2022.

Solar installations reached 1 TW in 2021, the trade group said, and will more than double to 2.3 TW by 2025. With an annual growth rate of 14% and an all-time high of 54.9 GW of installations, China kept its solar power capacity growth leadership in 2021, adding twice as much capacity as the second-largest market, the US.

Posted 16 May 2022 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Senior Editor

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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