Once-a-century weather catastrophes to occur at least once a year by 2050: UN report

Once-a-century weather catastrophes to occur at least once a year by 2050: UN report

MONACO: By 2050, many coastal megacities and small island nations will experience once-a-century weather catastrophes every year, even with an aggressive drawdown of greenhouse gas emissions, a major United Nations (UN) report said on Wednesday (Sep 25). 

More than a billion people will, by mid-century, be living in areas prone to cyclones, large-scale flooding and other extreme weather events amplified by rising seas, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected.

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Typhoon shuts businesses, forces flight cancellations in Taiwan
A pedestrian fights against strong winds caused by tropical storm Bailu in Taipei, Aug 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Sam Yeh)

It also highlighted that since 2005, sea levels have risen 2.5 times faster than during the 20th century due to melting sheets. 

This will likely jump four-fold again by 2100 if carbon emissions continue unabated, said the report. 

"Regardless of emissions scenarios, we face a world of higher sea levels," said co-author Bruce Glavovic, a professor at Massey University, New Zealand, noting that humanity is concentrated on the world's shorelines.

"It doesn't take a big rise in sea level to lead to catastrophic problems," he added. "Sea level rise is not a slow onset problem - it's a crisis of extreme weather events."

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of flooding in Golestan province, Iran
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of flooding in Golestan province, Iran, March 22, 2019. Picture taken March 22, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS

CRUMBLING ICE SHEETS 

"Even if we manage to limit global warming, we will continue to see major changes in the oceans," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a researcher at the Laboratory for Climate and Environmental Sciences and an IPCC co-chair.

"But it will at least buy us some time, both for future impacts and to adapt."

The underlying 900-page scientific report is the fourth such UN tome in less than a year, with others focused on a 1.5 degrees Celsius cap on global warming, the decline of biodiversity, as well as land use and the global food system.

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Greenland's ice sheets are melting due to global warming, opening up new shipping routes and
Greenland's ice sheets are melting due to global warming. (Photo: AFP/Steen Ulrik Johannessen)

All four conclude that humanity must overhaul how it produces, distributes and consumes almost everything to avoid the worst ravages of global warming and environmental degradation.

By absorbing a quarter of manmade CO2 and soaking up more than 90 per cent of the heat generated by greenhouse gases, oceans have kept the planet livable - but at a terrible cost, the report finds.

Seas have grown acidic, potentially undermining their capacity to draw down CO2; warmer surface water has expanded the force and range of deadly tropical storms; marine heatwaves are wiping out coral reefs, which are unlikely to survive the century.

Most threatening of all, accelerating melt-off from glaciers and especially Earth's ice sheets atop Greenland and Antarctica are driving the sea level to rise.

Global warming is melting ice in Antarctica faster than ever before, a new study says
Global warming is melting ice in Antarctica faster than ever before. (Photo: AFP/Chris Larsen)

HEFTY PRICE TAG

Some cities, such as New York, are planning to spend tens of billions of dollars - and probably far more - to shore up their defences.

Indeed, building dikes and levees along with other measures would reduce the risk of flooding caused by sea level rise and storm surges over the next 80 years by 100- to 1,000-fold, according to the IPCC report's 42-page Summary for Policy Makers.

But with a hefty price tag: Up to hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

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For many megacities and sprawling delta cities in the developing world, however, an engineered solution will be impractical or prohibitively expensive.

An aerial photo shows damaged buildings in Indonesia after a tsunami
An aerial photo shows damaged buildings in Carita, Indonesia on Dec 23, 2018 after the area was hit by a tsunami. (Photo: AFP/Azwar Ipank)

Under the IPCC's consensus rules, all countries must sign off on the language of the report's executive summary, designed to provide leaders with objective, science-based information.

The five-day meeting in Monaco went deep into overtime when Saudi Arabia objected what might have been a routine reference to the October 2018 IPCC report on the feasibility of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The 2015 Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, and 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible.

As a result, passages in the final draft were scrubbed, including one estimate that humanity's "carbon budget" - the amount of CO2 we can emit without breaching a temperature barrier - for a 1.5 degrees Celsius world could be as short as eight years, according to a copy seen by AFP.

Source: AFP/ad

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