News / Science & Technology

2001-2010 UN Report Shows Accelerated Warming

U.S. Forest Service photo shows fire rising over the West Fork Complex in Colorado, June 20, 2013.
U.S. Forest Service photo shows fire rising over the West Fork Complex in Colorado, June 20, 2013.
Selah Hennessy
— The world experienced unprecedented climate extremes during the first decade of this century, according to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization. Global bodies are gearing up to help nations cope with changing climate conditions.

The report, published Wednesday, analyzed global and regional temperatures and precipitation. It found that every year of the decade, except 2008, was among the 10 warmest since records began more than 150 years ago.

The report also looked at extreme events, including heat waves in Europe and Russia, Hurricane Katrina in the United States of America, droughts in the Amazon Basin, Australia and East Africa and floods in Pakistan.

Omar Baddour from the World Meteorological Organization [WMO] said Wednesday’s report reveals the extent of dramatic climate extremes between the years 2001 and 2010.

“There is some dramatic change in the state of the climate and it is being observed in the present years as well,” said Baddour.

Baddour said some extreme weather events can be explained by natural variations - but rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases also are changing our climate.

Bob Ward, from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said individual extreme weather events have the power to shock. But when you add it up in a decade-long overview, as Wednesday’s report has done, he said the impact is “astonishing."

Ward said the global challenges created by weather extremes are made worse by a changing world. Urban centers, he said, are growing - and in many ways heightening the danger.

“If you look around the world in Asia and parts of Africa, which are developing quickly, we are seeing large areas of population gathering in cities that are located on coastlines and they are particularly susceptible to extreme weather events,” said Ward.

One example, he said is Shanghai. It's a highly populated city that is close to sea level, on the coast line and prone to tropical cyclones.

Wednesday’s report says that deaths from extreme events totaled 370,000 over the 10-year period, up 20 percent from the 1990s.

The rise was caused mainly by a 2003 heat wave in Europe and a 2010 heat wave in Russia.

The report says deaths from storms and droughts fell, and that was in part, it says, because of better preparedness.

Ward said that in the coming years, preparing ourselves for climate change will be increasingly important.

“No matter how well we reduce emissions over the next three or four decades, we are committed to a degree of climate change in any case over that period and to help people adapt and make themselves as resilient as possible, they need information about how the climate might change,” he said.

He said making sure climate information is communicated quickly can help prevent human disasters.

According to the WMO, about 70 nations, including most of the least developed countries, have little or no climate services to disseminate information to the public.

Wayne Elliot is working to kickstart projects in Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Chad that will help inform people about important climate and weather patterns.

“There is a lot of uncertainty at the seasonal timescale. And what I mean by that is out two, three, four months ahead. So the science is quite difficult, it is quite challenged, there are lots of uncertainties at that time scale. But there is some skill in these parts of the world in those predictions, as well,” said Elliot.

He said in Niger they are helping farmers look ahead to the season’s forecast.

“There is a lot of information if tailored correctly for farmers that they can use to plan, for example, what types of seed, when they seed, when they water, when they need to think about harvesting crops, etcetera, around dry spells and around the rain falling that is arriving as well,” said Elliot.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the data published in Wednesday’s report refutes the belief among some in the scientific community that global warming is slowing down.

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