By Gwynne Dyer

What we’re seeing is climate impacts that scientists thought would accompany certain temperatures happening far more rapidly, with far more devastating effects than had been forecast,” said Dr. Simon Nicholson of the Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment at American University.

 “We didn’t think that the Arctic would crash by now, and yet it’s almost gone. We didn’t think we’d be seeing these wildfires in Australia and the United States and elsewhere with the frequency and severity that they’re being seen.

 “Given that we’re at about one degree Celsius [+1.1″°C, actually], we thought those were far-distant prospects. So 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial averages could turn out to be far more devastating than had been imagined.”

Last month was the planet’s hottest June on record. This month is shaping up to be the hottest July, and August may also break the record, because the relentless upward creep of global heating is being supercharged by the cyclical El NiÔ±o phenomenon in the eastern Pacific.

It’s not just very high temperatures – more than one-third of the US population is now under extreme heat warnings – but the heat lasts into the night, too. Southern Europe is the same from Spain to Turkey, with daytime temperatures in the low forties Celsius and little relief at night.

All quiet in the southern hemisphere, where it’s still winter, but El NiÔ±o probably means record bushfires in Australia by December. El NiÔ±o-linked droughts in South America and southern Africa, of course – and did I mention that there are still 500 wildfires burning in Canada?

 Well, what did you think that ‘global heating’ would be like? No surprises there, except that what the scientists thought would be happening around 2030 is happening now.

2029 or 2030 is when we were scheduled to breach the ‘aspirational’ never-exceed level of 1.5″°C higher average global temperature if emissions continued on the current track, but somebody forgot to allow for the fact that there’s an El NiÔ±o every three to seven years. Oops!

 “It’s the first time in history that it’s more likely than not that we will exceed 1.5″°C”, said Adam Scaife, the head of long-range prediction at Britain’s Met Office Hadley Centre. And that means that we will be getting into the territory where the ‘tipping points’ may be lurking.

Ever since 2015, we have been operating with two ‘never-exceeds’. The big, flashing red lights, with sirens blaring, are at +2″°C, because after that we would be crossing lots of tipping points: Arctic sea ice gone, Amazon forest turning into savannah, methane coming out of melting permafrost, lots of things causing rapid, unstoppable further warming.

 But they also set the lower, ‘aspirational’ never-exceed target of +1.5″°C because they were worried that some tipping points might activate even before +2″°C. That’s what we are heading for right now, and the forecast is that we’ll be in zone for extremes past +1.5″°C until 2027.

Then, if all goes well, the El NiÔ±o will have been replaced by the cooler La NiÔ±a, and the global average temperature will fall back to normal. Well, back to a new ‘normal – say, +1.3″°C. That would be nice.

If we have been good about reducing our emissions in the meantime, we might not see +1.5″°C again until the early 2030s. But if we cross some tipping points in the next few years, they won’t go back to ‘normal’ afterwards. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.