‘Climate change has arrived’ warns Marshall Islands foreign minister

Second tropical storm to hit Pacific state in a month is evidence of how weather patterns are changing, says Tony de Brum

Typhoon Maysak, as seen from the International Space Station on April 2, 2015 (Pic: NASA/Flickr)

Typhoon Maysak, as seen from the International Space Station on April 2, 2015 (Pic: NASA/Flickr)

By Ed King

Intense tropical storms are the “new norm” in the Pacific, according to Marshall Islands foreign minister.

Tony de Brum tweeted his comments after flying from his capital Majuro to Guam to witness the damage caused by Typhoon Maysak, which passed across the North Pacific last week before making landfall in the Philippines.

The Federated States of Micronesia bore the brunt of the storm, with five killed and thousands left homeless, according to the Red Cross, which estimated 60% of homes were damaged.

“[The] Island of Chuuk looks like it’s been seared by flame throwers. Winds not only knocked everything over but actually “browned” the vegetation,” said de Brum. “Climate change has arrived,” he added.

At its peak Maysak was generating gusts of 300 kilometres an hour in the ocean, leading to the evacuation of 24,000 from villages along the east coast of the Philippines.

While wind speeds dropped significantly as the Typhoon neared the Filipino coast, observers said it could still increase the chances of tidal surges, floods and landslides.

Climate scientists say they cannot be certain what effect rising global temperatures will have on tropical storms, but projections indicate it may mean typhoons and cyclones become more intense.

The tropical storm season usually runs from early November to late April, say meteorologists.

Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013, was the costliest event ever to hit the country, leaving over 6000 dead and causing an estimated US$ 6billion in damage.

Three weeks ago Cyclone Pam left parts of the Pacific island of Vanuatu devastated, an event the small island nation’s president said was caused by climate change.

New risks

Island states are at most risk from climate change because of the high proportion of land area exposed to storm surges and rising sea levels.

In its latest global atlas of climate impacts risk analysis group Verisk Maplecroft rates the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, Jamaica and Taiwan at “extreme” risk from climate change.

“Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and sea-level rise are already impacting coastlines, plant and animal species, agriculture, human health and economies around the world,” it said.

“Climate change will prompt more frequent and severe extreme climate-related events, such as flooding and droughts, posing risks to a country’s population, economy and infrastructure.”

The risks faced by the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Vanuatu and other small Pacific island states could not be evaluated because there was limited or no data available, it said.

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