Intergovernmental report: Extreme climate events becoming more frequent, costly

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, November 18, 2011 10:40 EDT
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Dead sheep and goats litter the landscape outside Waridaad, Somalia amid a brutal heat wave. Photo: Oxfam East Africa.
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Intense, months-long heat waves, fierce flooding and an ever-increasing human and economic toll from natural disasters are all things governments around the world should begin anticipating, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced on Friday.

In a draft report, the scientific body warned that climate extremes are more likely than ever in the coming decades, largely due to human activity. While developed nations have already sustained tremendous losses from increasing rates of extreme weather, the IPCC noted that the broadest effects were felt in overall economic impacts.

Developing nations, however, have already been feeling the brunt of a collision between worsening weather patterns, high vulnerability and poor preparedness, they said. “From 1970 to 2008 for example, more than 95% of deaths from natural disasters were in developing countries,” the IPCC added.

They also urged policy makers to implement “systems that warn people of impending disasters; changes in land use planning; sustainable land management; ecosystem management; improvements in health surveillance, water supplies, and drainage systems; development and enforcement of building codes; and better education and awareness.”

Through effective risk management, the climate panel said, governments can help to mitigate the worst effects in the coming years, and save many lives and potentially billions of dollars in the process.

Illustrating the ratio of what type of savings this could mean for future budgets, Tim Gore, Oxfam’s adviser on climate change, told The Guardian that every dollar spent now to adapt to climate change will soon represent $60 in savings.

“Governments must find the new money needed to invest now, and avoid the far higher costs of clean-up and lives lost later,” he reportedly said.

China is the world’s largest contributor of greenhouse gases, but the U.S. is second and has the highest output per-capita.

And while the IPCC may be the largest international body of scientists studying the issue of climate change, it is hardly the only institution to warn of climate change. Virtually all climate scientists agree that change is happening, but so do a large consensus of other scientific groups, such as the American Meteorological Society, the American Chemical Society, and the National Academy of Sciences.

While public opinion has been trending back towards trusting scientists with matters pertaining to science, media has largely allowed an equivalency between scientific consensus and climate skepticism, which holds a tiny minority in the scientific community.

Just earlier this month, a prominent climate change skeptic told Congress he no longer doubts that global warming is real and caused by humans, and joined other scientists in urging action to stop it.

Physicist Richard Muller, director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, whose two-year research was funded in part by a foundation formed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, said he could find no bias in other studies.

“We confirm that over the last 50 years, temperature has risen 0.9 degrees Celsius, or 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the same number that the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says.”

A separate group of British experts last month also urged governments to act now, before it is too late.

“It is not enough for politicians to deal with climate change as some abstract academic concept,” said a signatory, Hugh Montgomery, director of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Human Health and Performance.

“The price of complacency will be paid in human lives and suffering, and all will be affected,” he added. “Tackling climate change can avoid this, while related lifestyle changes independently produce significant health benefits. It is time we saw true leadership from those who would profess to take such a role.”

Photo: Oxfam East Africa.

With AFP.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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