The 2012 climate report of “Clairvoyant” warned of extreme weather conditions

It records high temperatures in urban Europe as heat waves cook the planet more often. Devastating floods, some in poorer and unprepared areas. Increasing destruction from hurricanes. Drought and famine in poorer parts of Africa as droughts worsen around the world. Wild time worldwide it is becoming stronger and more frequent, resulting in “unprecedented extremes”.

Sounds like the last few summers?

IS. But it was also a warning and a forecast for the future released by top UN climate scientists more than 10 years ago.

In a report that has changed the way the world views the harms of global warming, the Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on extreme events, disasters and climate change he warned in 2012: “Climate change leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events. “He said there would be more heat waves, worsening droughts, increased downpours that would cause ever stronger and wetter tropical floods and cyclones, and simply more unpleasant disasters for people.

“The report was clairvoyant,” said co-author of the report Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist. “The report was exactly what a climate report should do: warn us about the future in time to adapt before the worst things happen. And the world kept doing what it usually does. Some people and governments have listened, others have not. I think the sad lesson is that the damage has to happen very close to home, otherwise no one is paying attention to it now. “

In the United States alone, the number of weather disasters that cost at least $ 1 billion in damage, adjusted for inflation, rose from an average of 8.4 per year in the decade preceding the report to 14.3. a year after the report was published, with more than a trillion dollars in weather damage in the United States since in just the extremes of a billion dollars, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The unprecedented heat hit Northern California in September and 104 degrees in England (40 degrees Celsius) early this summer.

The 20-page summary of the 594-page report highlighted five case studies on climate risks from worsening extreme weather that scientists believe will be more of an issue and how governments could address them. In any case, scientists were able to give a recent example:

– Flash floods in “informal settlements”. Watch the floods in poor areas of Durban, South Africa, this year, said co-author of the report and climate scientist Maarten van Aalst, director of the International Red Cross and Crescent Climate Center in the Netherlands. Or eastern Kentucky or Pakistan this year or Germany and Belgium last year, the report’s authors said.

– Heat waves in urban Europe. “We have the one in spades. It was consistent, “said Susan Cutter, a disaster scientist at the University of South Carolina.” I think every year there have been longer periods of heat in Europe. “

– Increased property losses due to hurricanes in the United States and the Caribbean as storms become wetter and stronger, but not more frequent. Oppenheimer pointed to the past few years Louisiana has been hit repeatedly by hurricaneslast year when Hurricane Ida killed people in New York due to heavy rains that flooded basement apartments and 2017 when Hurricane Harvey’s record rain Houston paralyzed and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with Hurricane Irma in the middle.

– Droughts causing famine in Africa. It’s happening again in the Horn of Africa and last year in Madagascar, van Aalst said.

– Small islands flooded by a combination of sea level rise, saltwater intrusion and storms. It’s harder, but co-author Kris Ebi, a University of Washington climate and health scientist, has indicated that he records the strong tropical cyclone Winston that hit Vanuatu and Fiji in 2016.

“People feel it right now,” van Aalst said. “Science is no longer telling him. All those warnings have come true. “

In fact, the reality was arguably worse, with more and stronger extremes than the authors would have anticipated when they finished writing it in 2011 and published it a year later, co-authors Ebi and Cutter said.

This is partly due to the fact that when real life unfolded, disasters escalated and occurred in cascades with sometimes unforeseen side effects, such as heat waves and droughts causing hydroelectric power plants to dry up, nuclear power plants unable to obtain cooling water and even coal-fired power plants not receiving fuel deliveries because of dry rivers in Europe, the scientists said.

“Imagining something scientifically or saying it exists in a scientific assessment is a radically different thing than experiencing it,” said co-author Katharine Mach, a climate risk scientist at the University of Miami. She said it was similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials had long warned of viral pandemics, but when they came true, the lockdowns, school closures, economic consequences, supply chain problems were sometimes beyond dry scientific reports.

Prior to this report, the vast majority of climate studies, official reports and debate talked about long-term consequences, the slow but steady rise in average temperatures and sea level rise. Extreme events were considered too rare to be studied for good statistics and science and were not seen as a big deal. Now much of the attention in science, international negotiations, and media coverage is on the extremes of climate change.

Deaths from weather disasters both in the United States and globally are generally on the decline, but scientists say this is due to better forecasting, alerting, preparedness and response. From 2002 to 2011, prior to the report, the United States recorded an average of 641 weather deaths per year and now the 10-year average has dropped to 520 on average, but 2021 was the deadliest year in a decade with 797 weather casualties. At the same time, the US 10-year average for heat deaths has risen slightly, from 118 to 135 per year.

“We are adapting fast enough to reduce impacts,” Cutter said. “We are not reducing greenhouse gas emissions to actually pursue the cause of warming.”

Chris Field, a Stanford University climate scientist who led the report’s project a decade ago, said the scientists had the right warnings, but “we may have been too conservative” in the language used. In addition to the dry facts and figures presented, he wishes he had used words that would be “grabbing people by the shoulders and shaking them a little harder and saying these are real risks.”

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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