WASHINGTON (AP) — Think of the Texas drought, floods in
Thailand and Russia's devastating heat waves as coming attractions in a
warming world. That's the warning from top international climate
scientists and disaster experts after meeting in Africa.
The panel said
the world needs to get ready for more dangerous and "unprecedented extreme
weather" caused by global warming. These experts fear that without
preparedness, crazy weather extremes may overwhelm some locations, making
some places unlivable.
Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a special
report on global warming and extreme weather Friday after meeting in
Kampala, Uganda. This is the first time the group of scientists has
focused on the dangers of extreme weather events such as heat waves,
floods, droughts and storms. Those are more dangerous than gradual
increases in the world's average temperature.
the report predicts that heat waves that are now once-in-a-generation
events will become hotter and happen once every five years by mid-century
and every other year by the end of the century. And in some places, such
as most of Latin America, Africa and a good chunk of Asia, they will
likely become yearly bakings.
And the very
heavy rainstorms that usually happen once every 20 years will happen far
more frequently, the report said. In most areas of the U.S. and Canada,
they are likely to occur three times as often by the turn of the century,
if fossil fuel use continues at current levels. In Southeast Asia, where
flooding has been dramatic, it is likely to happen about four times as
often as now, the report predicts.
points to this year's drought and string of 100 degree days in Texas and
Oklahoma, which set an all-time record for hottest month for any U.S.
state this summer.
"I think of it
as a wake-up call," said one of the study's authors, David Easterling,
head of global climate applications for the U.S. National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration. "The likelihood of that occurring in the
future is going to be much greater."
said world leaders have to prepare better for weather extremes.
"We need to be
worried," said one of the study's lead authors, Maarten van Aalst,
director of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre in the
Netherlands. "And our response needs to anticipate disasters and reduce
risk before they happen rather than wait until after they happen and clean
up afterward. ... Risk has already increased dramatically."
lead writer, Chris Field of Stanford University, said scientists aren't
quite sure which weather disaster will be the biggest threat because wild
weather interacts with economics and where people live. Society's
vulnerability to natural disasters, aside from climate, has also
increased, he said.
Field told The
Associated Press in an interview that "it's clear that losses from
disasters are increasing. And in terms of deaths, "more than 95 percent of
fatalities from the 1970s to the present have been in developing
countries," he said.
already high, running at as much as $200 billion a year, said Michael
Oppenheimer of Princeton University, a study author.
progressed so much in the last several years that scientists can now
attribute the increase in many of these types of extreme weather events to
global warming with increased confidence, said study author Thomas Stocker
at the University of Bern.
were able to weigh their confidence of predictions of future climate
disasters and heat waves were the most obvious. The report said it is
"virtually certain" that heat waves are getting worse, longer and hotter,
while cold spells are easing.
said there is at least a 2-in-3 chance that heavy downpours will increase,
both in the tropics and northern regions, and from tropical cyclones.
summary of the full report — which will be completed in the coming months
— says that extremes could get so bad at some point that some regions may
need to be abandoned.
are likely to be in poorer countries, van Aalst said in a telephone
interview, but the middle class may be affected in those regions, which
aren't specifically identified in the report. And even in some developed
northern regions of the world, such as Canada, Russia and Greenland,
cities might need to move because of weather extremes and sea level rise
from man-made warming, he said.
In places like
van Aalst's native Netherlands, citizens will have to learn how to handle
new weather problems, in this case heat waves.
And it's not
just the headline grabbing disasters like a Hurricane Katrina or the
massive 2010 Russian heat wave that studies show were unlikely to happen
without global warming. At the Red Cross/Red Crescent they are seeing "a
particular pattern of rising risks" from smaller events, van Aalst said.
Of all the
weather extremes that kill and cause massive damage, he said, the worst is
ongoing debate in the climate science community about whether it is
possible and fair to attribute individual climate disasters to manmade
global warming. Usually meteorologists say it's impossible to link climate
change to a specific storm or drought, but that such extremes are more
likely in a future dominated by global warming.
Jerry North, a
scientist at Texas A&M University who wasn't part of the study, said he
thought the panel was being properly cautious in its projections and
findings, especially since by definition climate extremes are uncommon
events. MIT professor Kerry Emanuel thought the panel was being too
conservative when it comes to tropical cyclones.
The panel was
formed by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization. In the
past, it has discussed extreme events in snippets in its report. But this
time, the scientists are putting them together.
The next major
IPCC report isn't expected until the group meets in Stockholm in 2013.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: http://www.ipcc.ch/