Aridity – the ratio of atmospheric water supply (precipitation; P) to demand (potential evapotranspiration; PET) – is projected to decrease (i.e., become drier) as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change, aggravating land degradation and desertification. However, the timing of significant aridification relative to natural variability – defined here as the time of emergence for aridification (ToEA) – is unknown, despite its importance in designing and implementing mitigation policy. Here we estimate ToEA from projections of 27 global climate models (GCMs) under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, and in doing so, identify where emergence occurs before global mean warming reaches 1.5°C and 2°C above the pre-industrial level. Based on the ensemble median ToEA for each grid cell, aridification emerges over 32% (RCP4.5) and 24% (RCP8.5) of the total land surface before the ensemble median of global mean temperature change reaches 2°C in each scenario. Moreover, ToEA is avoided in about two-thirds of the above regions if the maximum global warming level is limited to 1.5°C. Early action for accomplishing the 1.5°C temperature goal can therefore dramatically reduce the likelihood of large regions facing significant aridification and related potential impacts.