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Hurricane Irma likely to be followed by more extreme weather events so we should prepare for horror of global warming now, say experts

We are heading quickly towards unprecedented and unequal levels of human suffering, say climate and resilience experts

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 07 September 2017 10:35 BST
Satellite footage shows Hurricane Katia lining up behind Jose and Irma

The world is going to be hit by more horrifying weather events like the hurricanes Irma and Harvey. And it isn't at all ready.

Countries across the globe need to start planning their response to such events or they are at risk of only allowing rich people to survive them, experts have warned. Global warming is likely to trigger a run of extreme weather events, they say, and like the recent hurricanes they may unfairly hit the poor.

At the moment, such events are rare – but with time, such cyclones are going to occur less often but with far more intensity. The fact that we have seen two such extraordinary events in one week should be a sign of what is coming, they said.

“The American hurricanes, Typhoon Hato and extreme monsoon floods in South-East Asia have demonstrated within one month just how puny humankind’s infrastructure is in the face of such hazards," said Mike Lockwood from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading. "The precautionary principle must be applied – otherwise we could face the prospect of events that we have characterised as one-in-50-years or even rarer becoming the new normal and that will cost us dearly, in terms of money and resources and, most importantly, human suffering.”

We should take lessons from the way that we have responded to the recent events and prepare for more, say climate and weather experts. Though there'll actually be fewer cyclones of this kind in the future, they'll be far more intense, according to climate predictions.

“These events also offer wider lessons on how prepared we are for a warmer future," said Dann Mitchell, NERC Research Fellow at the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute. "It is likely that rainfall events, in general, will become more extreme, as will heat waves and droughts.

"So events like Irma and Harvey also help us understand if we are prepared for them and who will be most affected. Increasingly, the evidence is clear that the poorest, being the most exposed to many climate risks and often being the least protected, will be most affected. Addressing this inequality is at the heart of not just the climate change discussion but all discussions about how we become resilient to risk and hazards.”

Jeffrey Kargel, from the Department of Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona, urged governments to question their denial of climate change and get to work making their countries resilient enough to be able to deal with such extreme weather events.

“I have one thing to ask the American government and all other climate change denying politicians around the world: have you wondered at all about climate change, hurricanes, glacier melting, ocean warming and sea level rise in connection with the safety of places near and dear to you, such as the Mar-a-Lago Resort? It is time that you start worrying about that," he said. "And while you are at it, please have some concern about the rest of the U.S. and the world.

“Put most simply, Planet Earth's climate is in upheaval and we know exactly what is causing it: right now, the rapid pace of climate change is set by government policies in the U.S. and many other countries. We cannot turn it around in a few years or even in a decade. But we can worsen it in a few years or a decade.”

Some of that preparation must be about asking the companies that can be blamed for the events to pay for them, according to Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science at the University of Oxford.

“As yet another hurricane barrels into the Caribbean, with extreme precipitation and the impacts of storm surges both exacerbated by past greenhouse gas emissions, we must begin to ask ‘how long can we expect taxpayers and those in the path of the storms to foot the entire bill for the impacts of climate change?'," Professor Allen said.

“In a paper published today in the journal Climatic Change, we show that nearly 30% of global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010 can be traced to products sold by just 90 large corporations. We need to start a conversation about whether it makes sense to exempt companies selling products that cause greenhouse gas emissions from all liability for the consequences of their use. As we found in 2008, giving companies unlimited license to make private profits while society underwrites the risk ends badly for everyone.”

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