There is a 20% chance that annual global temperatures will be 1.5C higher than pre-industrial times in at least one of the next five years, according to new analysis.
The long-range forecasts from the Met Office, coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), drew on climate prediction data from the UK and nine other countries, including the US and China.
The study also suggests annual global temperatures are likely to be at least 1C above the levels they were before the industrial era in each year between 2020 and 2024.
Under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement almost 200 nations agreed to try to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increase in this century to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5C.
In November last year the US officially notified the UN of its intention to withdraw from the agreement claiming it placed an “unfair economic burden” on the American people.
The Earth’s average temperature is already more than 1C over the pre-industrial era, and the last five-year period has been the warmest five years on record.
The new climate forecast also predicts there will be enhanced warming of the Arctic, compared to other regions of the world, and there will be an increased risk of storminess across the Atlantic Ocean.
WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said: “This study shows – with a high level of scientific skill – the enormous challenge ahead in meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change target of keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C.”
The assessment takes into account natural variations as well as human influence on the climate to forecast temperature, rainfall and wind patterns over the next five years.
But it does not take into account changes to greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution as a result of coronavirus lockdowns around the world.
Prof Taalas said the WMO had “repeatedly stressed” that the industrial and economic slowdown from COVID-19 was not a substitute for sustained and coordinated climate action.
He said: “Whilst COVID-19 has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, failure to tackle climate change may threaten human wellbeing, ecosystems and economies for centuries.
“Governments should use the opportunity to embrace climate action as part of recovery programmes and ensure that we grow back better.”
Climate spokesman for the Met Office Grahame Madge said a temporary exceedance of 1.5C in one year did not mean the Paris targets were breached.
“But what it does show is how close 1.5C is to where we are at the moment,” he said.
He added that the new data should help shape the agenda at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow next year.
The talks, which were postponed from this year due to the pandemic, aim to increase countries’ ambitions to cut emissions to try to curb dangerous climate change.