UN warns decade of climate disruption set to continue

By John Parnell

The previous decade was the warmest on land and sea since temperature measurements began in 1850.

Rapid melting and thermal expansion of the oceans contributed to a doubling of sea level rise compared to the 20th century average, according to the WMO’s Decade of Climate Extremes report.

The figures presented in the report demonstrates that temperatures have risen steadily for the past 150 years as greenhouse gas emissions have increased. Earlier this year the concentration of atmospheric CO2 exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in 3 million years.

“A decade is the minimum possible timeframe for meaningful assessments of climate change,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the WMO.

“The report shows that global warming was significant from 1971 to 2010 and that the decadal rate of increase between 1991-2000 and 2001-2010 was unprecedented.

“Rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are changing our climate, with far reaching implications for our environment and our oceans, which are absorbing both carbon dioxide and heat.

“Natural climate variability, caused in part by interactions between our atmosphere and oceans – as evidenced by El Niño and La Niña events – means that some years are cooler than others. On an annual basis, the global temperature curve is not a smooth one. On a long-term basis the underlying trend is clearly in an upward direction, more so in recent times,” said Jarraud.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which collates the latest scientific findings has reported the frequency of extreme weather events is likely to be affected by rising temperatures.

Warmer seas interfere with rainfall patterns, feed more energy to storms and have been tentatively linked to increasing hurricane frequency and the possibility of hurricane strength storms in Western Europe.

Massive flooding events in Pakistan, India and Thailand and huge storms in Haiti and the Philippines are among a long roster of extreme weather events in the past two years.

“Despite the significant decrease in casualties due to severe storms and flooding, the WMO report highlighted an alarming impact on health and mortality rates caused by the European and Russian heat-waves. Given that climate change is expected to lead to more frequent and intense heat-waves, we need to be prepared,” said Jarraud.

A June temperature record of 54°C was set in Death Valley National Park this week.

Next week the park celebrates the centenary of the world record temperature high of 56.7°C set on July 10, 1913.

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