World counts cost of catastrophe
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Environment Science Writer
PRODUCTION of a critical component of computer hard drives has been severely affected by the recent severe flooding in Bangkok, Thailand, causing the price of the hard drives around the world to triple.
This is one example of the interconnectedness of the impacts of extreme weather events that are “really coming to the fore” because of global warming and associated climate change, says a visiting American expert.
Dr Kristie Ebi, who is a high-level technical expert at the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was speaking to staff and students at Stellenbosch University this week.
The IPCC was established jointly by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation to “assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change”.
Its four assessment reports to date – the fifth is due in 2013/14 – have been critical to the work of the UN climate change convention, whose signatories are meeting for the COP17 summit in Durban, starting on Monday, and also to negotiations centred around the future of the convention’s Kyoto Protocol.
Ebi was giving a briefing on the IPCC’s Special Report: Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation, which was released in Kampala, Uganda, last Friday.
Like the assessment reports, this special report is the result of a worldwide scientific collaboration, involving 220 authors from 62 countries and 18 784 review comments.
It focuses on climate change and its role in altering the frequency, severity and impact of extreme events or disasters, and looks at the costs of both impacts and the actions taken to prepare for, respond to, and recover from extreme events and disasters.
Climatologists have predicted “for quite some time” that climate change would cause very high variability in short time scale weather events, Ebi explained.
This was because the extra energy in the atmosphere caused by warming would be dissipated through more extreme weather events.
One of the report’s major warnings is that climate change models project “substantial” warming in temperature extremes by the end of this century.
“It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes, and decreases in cold extremes, will occur in the 21st century on the global scale.
“It is very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, or heat waves, will increase over most land areas,” it states.
“Virtually certain” means a 99 to 100 percent probability, “very likely” is 90 to 100 percent probability, and “likely” is 66 to 100 percent.
“Based on (two) scenarios, a one-in-20-year hottest day is likely to become a one-in-two-year event by the end of the 21st century in most regions, except in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, where it is likely to become a one-in-five year event.”
The report also states that it is likely that the frequency of heavy rain, or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls, will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe, particularly in the high latitudes and tropical regions.
But in some regions, there is “medium confidence” that droughts will intensify because of reduced rainfall or increased evapo-transpiration. Such areas include southern Africa.
Referring to human impacts and disaster losses, the report says extreme events will have the greatest impacts on sectors with the closest links to climate, such as water, agriculture and food security, forestry, health and tourism.
However, it also notes that climate change is in many instances only one of the drivers of future changes, and is not necessarily the most important at the local scale.
It shows how disaster risk management and adaptation measures can reduce exposure and vulnerability to weather and climate events.
“One of the important messages we want to get across is that there are a lot of very effective measures out there right now that we can put in to reduce risk,” Ebi said.
l On the web: http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/