Severe Weather and Global Warming – Seán McDonagh SSC
Climate change has not gone away. Already this year there have been severe weather events in Pakistan, China, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland. I could have included Africa where a severe drought is causing hunger and malnutrition in the eastern Sahel in west Africa. It is estimated that 10 million people are affected in four different countries. In Niger, the worst affected area, it is estimated that 7.1 million people are hungry and facing a bleak future as livestock have been lost and food prices are soaring. This catastrophe has received very little coverage in western media.
In Latin America in April 2010 heavy rains in the state of Rio de Janeiro caused floods and mudslides leading to the death of at least 212 people. In June, Brazil experienced severe floods once again, this time in the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco in the north eastern part of Brazil. At least 1,000 people died or were reported missing.
Another spectacular event happened on August 5, 2010, when a section of the Petermann Glacier on the north western coast of Greenland, measuring 97 square miles, broke off. While there is nothing new in icebergs ‘calving’ this is the largest break off since 1962. Robert Bindschadler, a Senior Research Science at MASA Goddard Space Flight Center, points out that changes in calving will happen as climate changes because the environment is changing.” Increases in temperature due to climate change are not uniform across the world. The increase in temperature in the Arctic region has been very significant and scientists are predicting that the Arctic Ocean could be free of summer ice within a decade or so.
Peter Scott who is head of climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office has been sifting through the data on the extreme weather events during the past few months in Asia and Russia. He writes that, “ evidence, including in India and China, that periods of heavy rain are getting heavier, is absolutely consistent with our understanding of the physics of atmosphere in which warmer air hold more moisture. Our climate change predictions support the emerging trend in observation and show a clear intensification of extreme rainfall events in a warmer world.” Nevertheless, he concedes that it is problematic to state categorically that climate change is the cause of a particular climate event such as the hurricane Katrina. Extreme weather events happen once every 50 or 100 years. Peter Scott is now arguing that, as a result of global warming, these extreme events will happen much more frequently and “become considered the norm by the middle of this century.”
In the light of the deteriorating climate situation it was very disappointing that the recent climate change talks in Bonn ended so inconclusively. The 194 countries which attended the meeting failed to agree on a common target or method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It appeared that many of the gains which had been made in the UN climate conference in Nairobi, Bali, Poznans and even Copenhagen were beginning to unravel. In Bonn many so-called “developing” countries were retreating to positions which they held some years ago. They are insisting that while their attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be done on a voluntary basis, “developed” countries must agree to reduce their greenhouse emission through legally binding treaties. China, which as a country, is now the number one greenhouse gas emitter in the world, refused any suggestion for monitoring its emissions by an international agency. The Chinese point out that their per capita emissions are much lower than either North America or Europe.
The Copenhagen Accord agreed that action needs to be taken on a global level to keep the average increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. This would give the world a “carbon budget” of 750 gigatons of emission by the year 2050. Poor countries suggest that this figure should be divided between countries on a basic of population and how much greenhouse gases that country has historically emitted. Rich countries have about 16% of the world’s population but they generate 74% of greenhouse gases. The bulk of the 750 gigatons should be allocated to poor countries with huge populations. In this way they would be able to develop their economies to meet the development needs of their people. Unless there is a credible solution soon, extreme weather events will increase dramatically.
 Mark Tran, “Floods and mudslides on three continents, as drought hits Africa,” The Guardian, August 10, 2010, page 12.
 Peter Scott, “Odds for extreme events are shortening,” The Guardian, August 10, 2010, page 13.