GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 714, 20 July 2023

Climate change: Extreme weather events across the US, Europe, and Asia
Akriti Sharma

In the news
On 18 July, Arizona recorded 42 degree Celsius temperature for the 19th consecutive day. On 16 July, Death Valley in the US recorded 53 degree Celsius temperature. On 18 July, smoke from the Canadian wildfires continued to spread across California, Conway, and New Hampshire. In Hawaii's Big Island, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tropical storm warning forecasting it to bring significant rainfall, after which many states were kept under alert for floods. Meanwhile, in Bucks County in Pennsylvania, flash floods killed at least five people. 

On 18 July, Greece recorded more than 43 degree Celsius temperature. Greece also recorded wildfires due to extremely dry conditions. The EU announced that it will send amphibious aircraft to the country to douse the wildfires. According to the European Space Agency, countries including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, and Poland are witnessing heatwaves, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia recorded the highest-ever temperature of 48 degrees Celsius in Europe.  

On 13 July, in India, the Yamuna river reached its highest level in 45 years due to high rainfall. Hundreds of people were evacuated to relief camps and the government issued a flood alert. In the state of Himachal Pradesh, 88 people died due to flash floods that swept away bridges, cars, and homes. 

On 12 July, at least 40,000 people were evacuated from China's Sichuan province due to unusual heavy rains and floods.

On 19 July, the death toll in South Korea's Cheongju region due to floods reached 44. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol blamed the authorities for their failure to follow disaster response.

On 14 July, the COP28 president, Sultan al-Jaber, while laying out a plan for the climate summit, urged countries to be "brutally honest about the gaps that need to be filled." The same day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said "that climate change is out of control."

Issues at large
First, the complex meteorological causes. The cause of the heatwave in the US is the formation of a heat dome over the Mediterranean basin. A heat dome occurs when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air like a cap. Additionally, a double jet stream is one of the reasons for extreme heat. After a split in the jet stream, a part of it travels to the North and another one to the South, leaving parts of Western Europe without the wind and resulting in the formation of small heat caps over the region. El Niño is a natural climate phenomenon that lasts for 16 to 18 months. The warm band of ocean wind developed in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific increased temperatures around the globe, resulting in drought-like conditions and extreme flood situations due to erratic rainfall.

Second, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and links with anthropogenic climate change. According to the IPCC AR6 Report, climate change is one of the major driving forces behind the increasing frequency of extreme weather events across the globe. Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and floods have become frequent in recent years and this is attributed to anthropogenic climate change. 

Third, increase in compound events. Compound events are extreme weather events of a similar kind that lead to one another. According to the IPCC AR6 Report, unusual hot temperatures can cause heatwaves, wildfires, and droughts. This can be observed across the globe, where one extreme weather event leads to various other extreme weather events of a similar kind. In Europe and the US, the hot temperatures have resulted in heatwaves and wildfires. 

In perspective
First, the loss and damage fund. The loss and damage fund was decided in COP 27 which aims at aiding countries who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Although the countries are yet to develop a framework for the fund, it can be useful for the least developed and developing countries that might have inadequate capacity to address extreme weather events.

Second, the need for efficient disaster management. With the rise in extreme weather events and disasters, countries need to have effective disaster management strategies. Efficient early warning is crucial to reduce economic crisis and human losses and help countries in better disaster preparedness.

Third, the need to ramp up climate action. Given the drastic shift in the frequency and intensity, countries have little choice but to ramp up climate action. Most of the developed countries are still falling short of achieving their climate commitments. With a significant lag in the commitments, the 2030 target set by the Paris Agreement might not be achieved and can have serious fallouts. 

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