Record high temperatures in urban Europe as heat waves are causing the planet to become more frequent. Destructive floods, some in poor, unprepared areas. Increased devastation from hurricanes. Drought and famine in poorer parts of Africa with worsening droughts around the world. Wild weather around the world is getting stronger and more frequent, leading to “unprecedented extreme phenomena.” Does it look like the last few summers? But it was also a warning and a prediction for the future issued by the United Nations’ top climate scientists more than 10 years ago.
In a report that changed the way the world thinks about the harms of global warming, the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events, Disasters and Climate Change warned in 2012: “Climate change leads to changes in frequency and intensity, spatial extent, duration, and timing of extreme weather phenomena, and could lead to unprecedented weather and climate extremes.” She said there will be more heat waves, more droughts, more precipitation causing stronger and wetter floods and tropical cyclones, and simply more dangerous disasters for people.
“The report was prescient,” said report co-author Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist. The report was exactly what a climate report should do: warn us of the future in time so that we adapt before the worst things happen. And the world began to do what it usually does. Some people and governments listen, others don’t. I think the sad lesson is that the damage has to happen close to home or no one will pay attention now.”
In the United States alone, the number of weather disasters that cost at least $1 billion in damage — adjusted for inflation — rose from an average of 8.4 per year in the decade before the report was released to 14.3 in the year after the report was released, with more than $1 trillion from Weather-related damage in the United States has since just hit the $1 billion mark, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An unprecedented record temperature hit northern California in September and 104 degrees (40 degrees Celsius) in England earlier this summer. The 20-page summary of the report’s 594 pages highlighted five case studies of climate risks from worsening extreme weather that scientists said would be a bigger problem and how governments could deal with them. In each case, scientists were able to give a recent example: – flash floods in “squatter settlements”.
Look at the floods in poor sections of Durban, South Africa, this year, said report co-author and climate scientist Martin van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross and Crescent Climate Center in the Netherlands. Or eastern Kentucky or Pakistan this year or Germany and Belgium last year, the report’s authors said. Heat waves in urban Europe. “We have this in spades. This has been consistent,” said Susan Cutter, a disaster scientist at the University of South Carolina. “I think every year there have been longer periods of heat in Europe.” – Increased property losses from hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean as Storms get wetter and stronger, but not more frequent.
Oppenheimer recalled the past few years when Louisiana was hit repeatedly by hurricanes, last year when Hurricane Ida killed people in New York with torrential rain flooding basement apartments, and 2017 when Hurricane Harvey paralyzed Houston and devastated Puerto Rico. Hurricane Irma in between. Drought causes famine in Africa. This is happening again in the Horn of Africa and last year in Madagascar, Van Aalst said. Small islands were inundated with a combination of sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and storm surge.
That’s tougher, but co-author Chris Ibe, a climate and health scientist at the University of Washington, noted the recording of the powerful Tropical Cyclone Winston that hit Vanuatu and Fiji in 2016. “Right now, people are feeling it,” Van Aalst said. “Science is no longer telling them. All these warnings have come true.” In fact, the reality was likely to be worse, with stronger extremes than the authors expected when they finished writing it in 2011 and published it a year later, co-authors Ebi and Cutter said.
This is partly because when real life happens, disasters are compounded and cascaded with sometimes unexpected side effects, such as heat waves and droughts causing hydroelectric plants to dry up, nuclear power plants unable to get cooling water and even coal-fired power plants not It gets fuel shipments because of the dry rivers in Europe, the scientists said.
“Imaging something scientific or saying that it exists in a scientific assessment is something completely different compared to living in it,” said co-author Katherine Mach, a climate risk scientist at the University of Miami. It is similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Health officials have long warned of viral epidemics, but when that materialized, the shutdowns, school closures, economic consequences and supply chain problems at times went beyond what dry scientific reports could have imagined.
Prior to this report, the vast majority of climate studies, official reports and debates spoke of the long-term consequences, slow but steady rise in average temperatures and sea level rise. Extreme events were considered too rare to be studied for good statistics and science and were not seen as a major problem. Now, much of the focus in science, international negotiations, and media coverage is on extreme climate change.
Deaths from weather catastrophe in both the United States and the world in general are trending to decline, but scientists say this is due to better forecasts, warnings, preparedness and response. From 2002 to 2011, prior to the report, the average number of weather deaths in the US was 641 per year, now the 10-year average has dropped to an average of 520, but 2021 was the deadliest year in a decade as The number of deaths reached 797. At the same time, the average heat-related death in the United States for 10 years rose slightly, from 118 to 135 annually.
“We are adapting quickly enough to minimize the impacts,” Cutter said. “We are not reducing greenhouse gas emissions to go after the cause of global warming.” Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, who led the report’s project a decade ago, said the scientists got the warnings right, but that “we may be conservative” in the language used. In addition to the dry facts and figures provided, he wishes he used language that would “pull people off their shoulders and shake them a little bit more and say it’s real risks.”