Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UK Flooding and the Science of Climate Change

While it is widely understood that it is hard to ascribe individual weather events to climate change, there is strong evidence to suggest that the floods experienced in the UK at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 are a taste of what weather will be like as the world warms.

A top Welsh climate scientist has warned that recent storms and floods in the UK offer a foretaste of global warming. Professor Neil Glasser, one of the founders of the Climate Change Consortium of Wales, has said that computer models indicate that extreme weather such as that experienced by the UK of late will happen more often.

As reported by Wales Online, Aberystwyth University academic Professor Glasser said: “We’ve always had wet winters, but we’ve never had a run of winters like this - where it seems to have rained constantly with the high winds and so on.” He also said: “The most recent reports show that 99% of all climate scientists believe climate change is happening now. For me the inescapable conclusion is ‘Yes’. “You can’t necessarily say this run of bad weather is attributable to climate change, but this is precisely what the climate models show under climate change - that extreme events get more frequent.”

After the release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Lord Nicholas Stern, one of the UK’s most influential climate change experts, said the evidence was now conclusive. He said: “Four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards. Over that same period, we have also had the seven warmest years. That is not a coincidence.

There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics. “A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising."

Extreme weather is also occurring all around the world including record breaking heat and resultant bushfires in Australia.  In November warm surface waters in the north-west Pacific helped to create a super-storm known as Typhoon Haiyan, which was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world. The storm killed more than 5,700 people in the Philippines. Argentina had one of its worst heatwaves in late December, while parts of Brazil were struck by floods and landslides following record rainfall.

 “This is a pattern of global change that it would be very unwise to ignore" Glasser said, and he predicted that the situation will get far worse if carbon emissions are not brought under control now. As he explained in the Guardian newspaper: “If we do not cut emissions, we face even more devastating consequences, as unchecked they could raise global average temperature to 4C or more above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. This is twice the internationally agreed upon upper threshold limit of 2C “The shift to such a world could cause mass migrations of hundreds of millions of people away from the worst-affected areas. That would lead to conflict and war, not peace and prosperity,”  Glasser said.

Glasser indicated that if we are to make progress on efforts to stave off the worst impacts of climate change we will progress will require investment and policies that address the real prices of energy and the emissions from fossil fuels in particular.

Related Articles
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