It has been another summer full of reports of extreme weather events of
unparalleled scope and severity. Among the highlights: one of the warmest years
on record in the US,; record-high temperatures in Central and Eastern Europe;
the wettest summer in the UK; the heaviest rainfall in Northern India and the
Philippines; and some of the most severe droughts in the US and
In short, climate change and weather extremes are not about a distant future. What
used to be one-off extreme weather episodes seem now to be becoming the new
normal. Indeed, weather extremes are not that extreme any more. Heat-waves, floods, droughts and wildfires are the new reality of an ever warming world.
This should not come as a surprise. Scientists have been warning for years that as
the planet heats up, we will have to deal with more severe, more changeable, more
The evidence in mounting that human-caused climate change is pushing normal
warming effects to extremes. Heat-waves have increased in duration and
frequency. Some parts of Europe are now gripped by severe water shortages while others have suffered extreme precipitations causing floods and increased crop losses.
Although not every extreme weather event can be attributed to climate change, scientists are now much more confident about some of them. Take last year's record warm November in the UK, the second hottest on record.
Researchers say that it was at
least 60 times more likely to have
happened because of climate
change than from natural variations
in the earth's weather systems. This last summer fitted the general pattern, and scientists confirm that similarly hot summers will occur
much more frequently in the
The National Snow and Ice Data
Centre released new data this autumn which confirmed that the extent of Arctic sea ice had
reached a record low since satellite
measurement began in 1979.
More satellite data in July showed
that about 97 per cent of the
massive ice sheet surface covering
Greenland was melting, provoking
a NASA scientist to ask: "Was this
real or was it due to a data error?"
Unfortunately, the data were correct.
All this record-breaking news reveals
that global climate breakdown is
occurring more rapidly than most
climate scientists had expected.
Climate change is happening, and
it exacerbates a whole range of
other global problems, adding
further instability to an already
But, some may ask, isn't it too costly
to invest in a low-carbon world? Well,
yes it costs. But so does business as
usual. It would be wrong to believe
that to continue as we are doing is
the cheap option. It is not. On the
contrary, it is very expensive. To take
just one example: the World Bank
issued a global hunger warning
earlier this month after severe
droughts in the US, Russia and the
Ukraine sent food prices to a record
high. It pointed out that prices for
maize and sorghum had increased
by 113 per cent and 200 per cent
respectively in some markets in
Mozambique and in Sudan! This is the
kind of cost that often gets ignored.
Businesses don't need to be told about the financial losses caused by weather extremes. This summer's
drought in the US devastated the
multibillion-dollar corn and soybean
crops. US insurers may face as
much as $20 billion losses this year,
their biggest in agriculture. This is not exactly helping fight the economic crisis.
It is simply incredible what big risks
some people are prepared to take
on behalf of future generations.
Despite the facts and evidence
in front of us, there are still many
interests advocating doing nothing or
continuing with business as usual - or
just forgetting the climate crisis until
we have solved the economic crisis.
While some regard the current financial turmoil as a bitter setback for international climate protection,
I see intelligent climate action as a
driver of new opportunities for jobs
in Europe, for investments in energy-efficiency technologies, for boosting innovation and competitiveness, and
for lowering energy bills.
To me, tackling the climate crisis
helps, not damages, our economic
security and prosperity. Both crises
are interlinked and must be
The gathering of ministers and
negotiators from all over the
world in Qatar for the UN climate
conference faces a crucial moment to advance the international fight against climate change. We can't
afford inaction. Three years ago, at
the Copenhagen climate summit,
leaders pledged to keep below the
crucial 2°C threshold for increased
temperatures. Now the time has
come to show they mean it.