Scientists say that to avoid the gravest dangers of climate change, the global surface temperature can’t be allowed to rise more than 2 °C. Past that point, the world faces catastrophic changes to food production, sea levels, wildlife, and water reserves.
And it looks like we’re already halfway there.
The U.K.’s Met Office notes that the temperature at the earth’s surface is currently already 1.02 °C higher than the average between 1850 and 1900. If trends continue, it will—for the first time—rise more than one degree Celsius above preindustrial levels by the end of the year.
Researchers at the Met Office blame the unusual rise on greenhouse gases and a record El Nino, a climate phenomenon in which the western tropical Pacific Ocean becomes abnormally warm. Stephen Belcher, director of the Met Office Hadley Centre, says in a statement: “It is human influence driving our modern climate into uncharted territory.”
This warning comes as world leaders prepare for their upcoming meeting on climate change, in Paris next month. While more than 150 countries have submitted plans to cut back on global emissions, climate experts warn these pledges will still fail to prevent global temperatures from passing the 2 °C threshold, and instead limit average temperature rise to 3 °C.