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El Niño, Greenhouse Gases Likely to Cause Record-Level Temperatures Over Next Five Years

As the northern hemisphere moves from spring to summer, the world is heating up and likely to hit record temperature levels during the next five years, according to new research from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO released its Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update on Wednesday, explaining that there is a 66 percent likelihood that annual average near-surface global temperatures during the next five years will be more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels for at least a year. The WMO also reported a 98 percent likelihood that the next five years as a whole will be the warmest ever recorded.

“This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius level specified in the Paris Agreement, which refers to long-term warming over many years,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas in a press release. “However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5 degree Celsius level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency.”

Alongside trapped greenhouse gases, what’s fueling this rise in temperature? WMO researchers expect an El Niño to develop in the next few months—a climate pattern that causes warm water from the Pacific jet stream to move south, creating dryer and warmer weather patterns in Canada, the northern United States, and the Amazon rainforest, while creating wetter conditions in the U.S. Gulf Coast and southeast.

Portions of Canada have already experienced warmer weather, dubbed an Omega Block, during the second quarter of the year. Roughly 2,500 wildland firefighters are currently attempting to contain about 90 wildfires in Alberta, Canada, which have displaced nearly 20,000 people and burned 19,576 acres, according to NBC News. The wildfires have also disrupted oil operations in Canada, which could impact global energy prices because Canadian shale operators were forced to halt their work in May.

“In the meantime, the heat was scrambling ecosystems in other areas of Canada,” NBC News reports. “In British Columbia, the warmth prompted a rapid melt-out of mountain snow. That left officials dealing with flood and fire evacuations at the same time.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe, El Niños can create colder and drier winters in the north and wetter winters in the south. Some of these weather patterns are already in motion as Italian officials are responding to massive flooding that killed at least eight people, forced thousands to evacuate, and canceled a prominent Formula 1 Grand Prix.

“Italian Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci called for a new nationwide hydraulic engineering plan to adapt to the impact of increasing incidents of floods and landslides,” the Associated Press reports. “At a briefing, he noted that an average of 200 millimeters (7.9 inches) of rain had fallen in 36 hours in the region, with some areas registering 500 millimeters (19.7 inches) in that period.”

Additionally, El Niños can cause warmer and drier weather in Australia, potentially reduce monsoons in India and South Africa while increasing rains and flooding in east Africa, and raise the risk of tropical cyclones for islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Some nations are already initiating preventative measures to address the risks of future El Niños. New Zealand, for instance, pledged $6 billion for a national resilience plan that will include “significant upgrades” for flood mitigation and rising seas, according to The Guardian.

While officials are working to respond to mitigate potential weather risks from the changing climate, it’s also important for security officials to understand how rising temperatures impact human health and psychological well-being.

In an interview with Security Management Highlights podcast host Brendan Howard, Steven Crimando explains that heat can increase hostility because “heat compromises peoples’ ability to read and respond to hostile cues from other people.” Crimando was on the podcast to talk about his recent article, “The Climate Change-Violence Nexus: Implications for Workplace Violence Prevention and Threat Assessment,” which was published on Monday by Security Management.

“Along with the devastating environmental effects of climate change, the climate crisis is also a disaster for human health and psychological well-being,” Crimando writes. “Researchers have seen a rise in climate-related grief, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and depression, as well as rising interpersonal aggression and violence and impaired cognitive and brain function—all of which have direct implications for safety, security, and business continuity.”

This means security practitioners must become climate-informed to successfully lead their organizations through this period of change. To do so, Crimando suggests focusing on five action items and skillsets, which include understanding the relationship between climate change, human behavior, and violence.

This begins with “climate literacy,” Crimando says in the podcast. “Do people understand what this means? What this means to them, personally, their family, community, organization, or business? And then you can actually move into that discussion of adaptation and mitigation.”

The WMO released its research in mid-May before its annual Congress from 22 May to 2 June where members will gather to discuss how to strengthen climate services and weather forecasts to support adaptation to climate change.

“Priorities for discussion at Congress include the ongoing Early Warnings for All initiative to protect people from increasingly extreme weather and a new Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Infrastructure to inform climate mitigation,” the WMO said.

For more on how climate change affects the security profession, check out our May Focus on Climate Change and Security.