A definitive scientific report warns that extreme weather events linked to climate change will continue around the world in coming decades. The report, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, was compiled over two years by 220 climate scientists. Co-Chair of the report’s working group Qin Dahe, confirmed,“There is high confidence that both maximum and minimum daily temperatures have increased on a global scale due to the increase of greenhouse gases.” The other co-chair of the scientific working group, Thomas Stocker, said: ”For the high emissions scenario, it is likely that the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of 10 in most regions of the world Likewise, heavy precipitation will occur more often, and the wind speed of tropical cyclones will increase while their number will likely remain constant or decrease.”
Floods from Pakistan to Vermont, heat waves from Australia to Russia, and drought from Texas to the Horn of Africa, have cost countries billions and caused untold suffering. The report observes that while climate event related fatalities hit developing nations, economic disaster losses are higher in developed nations. In 1980-2010, 95 percent of all natural disaster fatalities occurred in developing nations.
Extreme weather events can be expected to have profound effects on global economy, public health, and infrastructure. And the effects will be felt everywhere, though with uneven consequences. Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Rajendra Pauchauri noted that the report “underlines the complexity and the diversity of factors that are shaping human vulnerability to extremes–why for some communities and countries these can become disasters whereas for others they can be less severe.”
Perhaps those unconcerned by climate devastation, species loss, disease spread and human suffering may be moved by the financial hardship brought on by extreme weather events. The economic impact of extreme weather events ranges widely. For the period 2001-2006, extreme weather cost developed nations .1% of GDP; 1% of GDP for middle income nations, to as much as 8% of GDP for severely-impacted small island nations. In the US alone, there have been 10 weather events this year, including record-breaking flooding, heat waves and drought, that have cost over $1 billion each.
The Price of Inaction
While scientific consensus has been reached, political consensus seems far away. The next round of climate talks takes place in Durban, South Africa at the end of this month. Chief climate negotiator for the European Union Connie Hedegaard said of the report: “With all the knowledge and rational arguments in favor of urgent climate action, it is frustrating to see that some governments do not show the political will to act. … In light of the even more compelling facts, the question has to be put to those governments in favor of postponing decisions: for how long can you defend your inaction?”
Thailand has experienced devastating floods, the kind of extreme events of which we can expect to see more. Photo: 10/17/2011 By Cpl Robert J. Maurer of US humanitarian assessment team, Pathum Thani, Thailand. Public domain.