It is now more likely than not that we will exceed the 1.5C threshold for global warming between now and 2027. May 2023 saw this confirmed for the first time in the annual report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which placed responsibility on “emissions from human activities” and “the increased likelihood of El Niño developing during May–July 2023”.

The 2015 Paris Agreement introduced the significance of breaching 1.5C. This legally binding international treaty, the first of its kind, aims to curb the increase in global average temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius pre-industrial levels. Countries have accordingly pledged to “limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.” Such emphasis on the 1.5C value has previously been reinforced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) warnings that surpassing this threshold will have severe climate change repercussions.

Crucially, WMO recognises the role of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) system in this new global warming trajectory. Its three phases include El Niño and La Niña weather, the two “opposite states”, and a neutral phase, which influence global weather patterns, including rainfall levels, hurricane frequency and droughts. El Niño and La Niña represent the warm and cool phases of the ENSO cycle, respectively.

Episodes occur every two to seven years, lasting between nine and twelve months. However, they do not necessarily alternate: we have experienced a “rare triple-dip” entailing three successive La Niña episodes from 2020. Yet, despite these supposedly cooler years, 2022 was still the fifth warmest year ever recorded. Further still, the WMO report confirms with almost certainty (98 percent likelihood) that within the next five years, at least one will break the record again, which coincides with the increased probability of the transition to a new El Niño – the warm phase – between July and September 2023. This possibility places the planet on a worrying trajectory to warming well beyond the 1.5C threshold.

COP 28 takes place from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in the UAE. Ahead of this, the UN will publish the first “global stocktake”, which assesses participating nations’ progress towards the goals outlined by the Paris Agreement – limiting warming to 1.5C is central to this. Under the Paris Agreement, countries yet to submit their national climate action plans by the 2023 deadline may have to re-evaluate their strategies. However, there remain concerns that the purpose of COP 28 will be undermined, considering that oil comprises 30 percent of the UAE’s GDP.

On May 17th, BBC broke the news of breaching the 1.5C threshold. Since then, few news outlets other than the Guardian have reported on it. Given the symbolic significance of the 1.5 C limit, the media silence is surprising. It could point to a broader sense of disillusionment amongst the public about our own sense of agency over the state of the environment.Still, media corporations and news outlets are responsible for reporting on these issues. Cultivating awareness about the scientific realities of climate change is the first step to identifying solutions and mitigating risks for future generations. We are not in a place to be complacent: the WMO’s report does not mean we will exceed the 1.5C threshold permanently, but it does warn us that we may breach it temporarily with “increasing frequency”. This is something we should all be talking about.