under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited. There has recently been interest in understanding the differences between specific levels of global warming, especially the Paris Agreement limits of 1.5 °C and 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. However, different model experiments1–3 have been used in these analyses under varying rates of increase in global-average temperature. Here, we use climate model simulations to show that, for a given global temperature, most land is significantly warmer in a rapidly warming (transient) case than in a quasi-equilibrium climate. This results in more than 90% of the world’s population experiencing a warmer local climate under transient global warming than equilibrium global warming. Relative to differences between the 1.5 °C and 2 °C global warming limits, the differences between transient and quasi-equilibrium states are substantial. For many land regions, the probability of very warm seasons is at least two times greater in a transient climate than in a quasi-equilibrium equivalent. In developing regions, there are sizable differences between transient and quasi-equilibrium climates that underline the importance of explicitly framing projections. Our study highlights the need to better understand differences between future climates under rapid warming and quasi-equilibrium conditions for the development of climate change adaptation policies. Yet, current multi-model experiments1,4 are not designed for this purpose.