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Climate Change Linked to Typhoon Haiyan

  • Henry Ridgwell

As another tropical storm bears down on the Philippines just days after Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the region, the country’s climate change commissioner has issued a passionate plea for a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Climate scientists and policymakers offer differing opinions on whether the devastation in the Philippines is the latest evidence of global warming.

Scientists say Typhoon Haiyan is one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall.

Some experts say man-made climate change is to blame.

Bob Ward is from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.

“There’s certainly strong circumstantial evidence because we know that the strength of tropical cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons depends very much on sea surface temperatures. They act as the fuel. And we’ve got very warm waters in the Pacific at the moment, which have been increasing because of climate change," said Ward.

Ward says the intensity of storms seems to be increasing.

“Our models are not very clear at the moment but we might expect in the future that we might even see fewer. But those that do occur will be much stronger than we’re experiencing now," he said.

The widespread destruction of infrastructure means authorities and aid agencies are struggling to distribute food and water.

Benedict Dempsey of Save the Children says accurate forecasts meant some aid workers were in place when the storm hit.

“Half a dozen people went actually into the path of the storm in order to be prepared for the response in Tacloban and elsewhere in the Philippines," said Dempsey.

Dempsey says aid agencies are having to adapt to more frequent natural disasters of this kind.

“Between around 2002 and 2011, on average over 260 million people a year are being affected by disasters. And so we’re seeing the reality of these trends acting out on the ground, and it’s absolutely something that we’re having to prepare to respond to in the future," he said.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation - which is skeptical about man-made climate change - says the focus should be on disaster preparation rather than cutting greenhouse gases. Benny Peiser is the group's director.

“This was the 20th tropical storm to have hit the Philippines this year. So this is going to continue no matter what we decide on CO2. These storms will continue," said Peiser.

At climate change talks currently under way in Poland, the Filipino representative made an impassioned plea for an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientist Bob Ward says the delegates should pay attention.

“I think this typhoon will focus minds very much on the fact that if we squabble and delay in getting an agreement, we’re going to see more and more of these kind of events with very, very human costs," said Ward.

But observers at the Warsaw talks say a deal on cutting emissions still appears a long way off.

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