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Warmer World Intensifies Extreme Weather, 'Natural' Disasters

Washington, DC - As U.S Senate Committees discuss the international negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol, a new study released today by World Wildlife Fund notes that climate change already causes an increase in the number and intensity of natural disasters, furthering the need for an effective treaty.

The report 'Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events' concludes that as concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise, it is likely that there will be an increase in the intensity of rainstorms, river floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events. While few places in the world will be spared from climatic disruptions, the Southern Hemisphere, with less infrastructure to meet the human and ecological demands these disasters create, will see much of the extreme weather patterns.

"The intensity of extreme weather events will affect many parts of the world differently. The floods currently affecting West Bengal are an example of what we expect to see more of," said report author Pier Vellinga, Professor of Environmental Studies and leading climatologist at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. "Climate change brings about a global redistribution of the costs and benefits of the weather. We should have no doubt that the costs will be much greater than the benefits."

Through a systematic analysis of the observed changes in temperature, precipitation patterns and intensity, sea level, snow and ice cover, ocean and atmosphere circulation patterns and ecosystems behavior, the report documents the world-wide fluctuation in weather events and makes some predictions for future trends. These include a probable increase in the frequency and the intensity of El Niqo-like conditions, with shorter and stronger La Niqas. The likely result of this would be growing numbers of heavy rains and storms interspersed with short dry spells in some regions, and more prolonged droughts punctuated by heavy rain years in other parts of the world. During summer months, for example, Southern Europe is expected to become drier while Northern Europe will probably get wetter.

The report emphasizes that the effects of climate change are already visible around the globe with growing evidence that economic damage as a result of extreme weather events has dramatically increased over the past decades. Extreme weather events have caused severe crop damage in the US with some reports showing the 1988 drought costing some $56 billion and the 1993 Mississippi River Valley floods costing more than $23 billion. M|nich Re, a leading reinsurance company, has concluded that after correcting for increased population, wealth and inflation, economic losses due to natural disasters increased two-fold in the period 1970-2000 while at the same time global average temperature has risen by about 0.4 degrees Celsius. This implies that at least part of the damage caused by weather extremes is due to human induced climate change, caused by the increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"A flood or drought does not chose its victims based on a country's pollution policies," said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "Many of the world's developing countries will be struck the hardest by the increase in rainstorms or decreases in precipitation patterns. Though the developing world saw little benefit from the Northern Hemisphere's industrial revolution they may pay the highest price for the greenhouse gas emissions it produced during the last century."

Download the Report: Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events