The dangers of rapid climate change can sometimes seem distant and irrelevant, a concern for the next generation which is unlikely to affect us today. Yet the clear increase of extreme weather incidents is further evidence of why rising greenhouse gas emissions is such a risk to the world today.
The UK is an obvious starting point. 2012 was the second wettest year on record and saw thousands of floods across the country, especially in the southwest and Scotland. The summer downpours left the ground saturated and meant many families endured a miserable Christmas in temporary accommodation. 1 in every 5 days saw flooding in 2012.
While the UK was wet, the US was dry. A 16-month stretch from June 2011 to September 2012 of above-average monthly temperatures saw the US record its hottest ever year. More concerning than the 2012 heat was a report by Munich Re suggesting that North America has been the most susceptible region to severe weather since 1980. One example is the 2010 flood in Nashville, which officials described as a once-in-a-millennium event.
Meanwhile snowdrifts over 5.5 metres have enveloped Japan, breaking all previous records.
These examples are supported by a multitude of peer-reviewed academic studies which, while cautious to suggest a direct link to climate change, point to an increasingly strong correlation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also conducted extensive research on this linkage in its 2012 SREX Report ‘Managing the risks of extreme events and disaster to advance climate change adaptation‘.
Such reports discuss the dramatic consequences of these extreme weather incidents such as $7.8 billion of infrastructure and agricultural damage in Columbia due to the 2010-11 La Nina. Others describe the rise of floods and cyclones in India or the occasional crash in potato yields.
As the UK continues to recover from last year’s floods, the Environment Agency recently reminded the public that 2012 began with a hosepipe ban. This was also the case in 2007, which saw some of the most severe flooding on record. ”The extremes of weather that we saw last year highlight the urgent need to plan for a changing climate”, the Agency’s chairman warned.
It’s too early to categorically state that these extreme weather incidents are directly caused by climate change. However the scientific evidence is mounting to prove such a linkage and businesses would be wise to take the devastating effects and increasing frequency of these trends into account.