[In-depth] Climate Change Driven Extreme Weather Events

climate-change-driven-extreme-weather-events-upsc

According to a new article in Nature Climate Change, more than a third of all deaths between 1991 and 2018 in which heat played a role were attributable to human-induced global warming. Overall, the estimates show that 37% of all heat-related deaths in the recent summer periods were attributable to the warming of the planet due to anthropogenic activities. Similarly, the recent incident of a rare late frost in April on some of France’s best-known and most prestigious wine-producing regions considered to be an agricultural catastrophe can be attributed to global warming. Such events are not isolated weather catastrophes but they are a warning of the climate change that is taking place continuously. Climate change is causing more frequent and intense weather events according to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Rising extreme weather events like tropical cyclones and others in India and other parts of the world are pointing to the looming crisis that climate change is making the world face. It is a crucial time that world leaders pay heed to and take effective measures to combat climate change as early as possible.

Climate-Change-Driven-Extreme-Weather-Events mindmap

Weather and climate

  • Weather is the state of the atmosphere concerning heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness. 
  • Climate is the weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period.

How are they interlinked?

  • The climate of a region is directly linked to the weather that occurs within that area. If a location has very cold weather the majority of the time, then it will be a cold climate as the average over a long period will be mainly cold weather. 
  • Similarly, the climate of a region also determines the weather of an area. If an area has a hot climate, then there is a good chance that the weather will be hot as that is the norm for the region.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What is climate change?

  • Climate change is a change in the usual weather found in a place. This could be a change in how much rain a place usually gets in a year or it could be a change in a place’s usual temperature for a month or season.
  • Climate change is also a change in Earth’s climate. This could be a change in Earth’s usual temperature or it could be a change in where rain and snow usually fall on Earth.
  • Weather can change in just a few hours. Climate takes hundreds or even millions of years to change.

What are extreme weather events?

An extreme event is a time and place in which weather, climate, or environmental conditions—such as temperature, precipitation, drought, or flooding—rank above a threshold value near the upper or lower ends of the range of historical measurements.

How are extreme weather events linked to climate change?

  • Climate change for any particular location on Earth comes with changes in the nature and frequency of extreme weather events.
  • Changes in the mean must have consequences for the intensity of extremes.
  • Therefore the recently observed series of extreme weather events must have been influenced by the higher average temperatures. 
  • This implies that at least part of the damage caused by weather extremes is due to human-induced climate change.
  • To date, climate research has yet to show that any given event was caused solely by global warming.
  • However, over the past decade, research has shown that climate change due to global warming has made many extreme events more likely, more intense, longer-lasting, or larger in scale than they would have been without it.

Some extreme weather events

  • Heatwaves – These are the periods of abnormally extreme hot weather lasting days to weeks.
    • The number of heatwaves has been rising globally in recent years.
    • Research and analyses show that human-induced climate change has generally increased the probability of such heatwaves.
    • Globally, extreme temperature events are observed to be increasing in their frequency, duration, and magnitude.
    • As per the records of the WHO, between 2000 and 2016, the number of people exposed to heatwaves increased by around 125 million.
    • From 1998-2017, more than 166 000 people died due to heatwaves and population exposure to heat is increasing due to climate change.
    • Heatwaves can burden health and emergency services and also increase strain on water, energy and transportation resulting in power shortages or even blackouts.
    • Food and livelihood security may also be strained if people lose their crops or livestock due to extreme heat.
  • Drought – A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems.
    • Higher temperatures lead to increased rates of evaporation and loss of moisture.
    • Little or no rainfall increases the surface evaporation in these areas.
    • As the soil dries out, a large proportion of incoming heat from the sun goes into heating the soil.
    • The adjacent air of the given area also heats up resulting in hotter summers under drier climatic conditions.
    • Such heat and drought conditions cause great loss to agriculture.
    • As per the WHO, an estimated 55 million people globally are affected by droughts every year, and they are the most serious hazard to livestock and crops in nearly every part of the world.
    • Rising temperatures caused by climate change are making already dry regions drier and wet regions wetter.
    • Drought threatens people’s livelihoods, increases the risk of disease and death, and fuels mass migration.
    • As many as 700 million people are at risk of being displaced as a result of drought by 2030.
  • Heavy rainfall – Rainfall above the average levels is considered to be heavy rainfall.
    • Heavy downpours have been increasing over the last few years.
    • The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent and the amount of rain falling in heavy precipitation events has also been significantly increasing above-average levels.
    • The mechanism behind these changes is that warm air contains more water vapour and according to global analyses the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere has increased due to human-induced global warming.
    • This extra moisture is available to storm systems resulting in heavy rainfall.
    • Global rainfall data for over the last century shows an alarming trend.
    • The number of rainy days is decreasing while intense rainfall events of 10-15 centimetre per day are increasing. This means that more amount of water is pouring down in lesser time.
  • Floods – A flood is defined as any high flow, overflow or inundation by water that causes damage 
    • Floods are caused or amplified by many weather factors which include heavy or prolonged precipitation, snowmelt, thunderstorms, storm surges from cyclones, and ice or debris jams.
    • It is believed that human-induced warming has led to the rise in such factors which cause flooding.
    • There have been several events of flooding over the past few years.
    • Global warming has led to heavy downpours, more extensive storm surges due to rising sea levels, and rapid snowmelt which ultimately cause flooding.
    • Between 1980 and 2009, floods have caused more than 500,000 deaths and affected more than 2.8 billion people worldwide.
  • Tropical cyclones (TCs) – These are localized, very intense low-pressure wind system, forming over tropical oceans and with winds of hurricane force. These are called “hurricanes” in North Atlantic and the central and North Pacific, “typhoons” in the northwest Pacific and simply “tropical cyclones” in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
    • Research shows that climate change has likely boosted the likelihood of many cyclonic activities.
    • Warming of the surface ocean from anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change is likely fueling more powerful TCs.
    • The destructive power of individual TCs through flooding is amplified by rising sea level, which very likely has a substantial contribution at the global scale from anthropogenic climate change.
    • The proportion of severe TCs (category 4 & 5) has increased, possibly due to anthropogenic climate change.
    • TC precipitation rates are projected to increase due to enhanced atmospheric moisture associated with anthropogenic global warming.
    • This proportion of intense TCs is projected to increase further, bringing a greater proportion of storms having more damaging wind speeds, higher storm surges, and more extreme rainfall rates.
    • The Indian subcontinent has been facing the brunt of costly and deadly tropical cyclones for decades.
    • Scientists say global heating is accelerating the rate of ocean warming, leading to an increased number of cyclones and rapid intensification of weak storms, with severe repercussions for the country.
    • Over the past 50 years, tropical cyclones have killed more than 779,000 people and caused $1.4 trillion in economic losses worldwide, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Effects of extreme weather events

  • They cause destruction and death.
  • A great amount of economic loss can be attributed to such activities.
  • Extreme weather can destroy entire cities and huge areas of land leading to population displacement.
  • Others. 

How to minimise such extreme weather events?

  • Such events can be avoided by recognising the protective value of eco-systems such as forests and enforcing legislation and regulations that protect them from being overexploited. This is because forests help to regulate rainfall, maintain soil quality and absorb CO2, the main greenhouse gas linked to global warming.
  • The pressures of population and economic growth need to be recognized and addressed. Sustainable means of development should be incorporated into the planning process to address this issue.
  • There should be a collective framework by all the countries globally to combat and reduce the risks of climate change.
  • Building and developing early warning systems and disaster reduction measures can be some of the short term measures to combat the risks linked to such extreme weather events.

Conclusion

The recent extreme weather events are a clear warning to the world that global warming which has given birth to the catastrophe of climate change is a major crisis that has the potential to lead to increased disasters all over the globe. It is high time that the global temperatures are kept under check and events inducing global warming are reduced. Sustainable development with suitable planning is the way forward.

Practise Question

Q. How is climate change leading to extreme weather events? Suggest measures to mitigate such risks emanating from climate change.

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