This is a guest post by Magda Strzala
The World Resources Institute warns that if we don’t act against global warming to keep the average temperature increase well below 2 degrees, the consequences will be very severe. Two degrees warming will rise the sea level above 0.46m by 2100, 8% of vertebrates, 18% of insects and 16% of plants will lose at least half of their range, 37% of the world’s population will be exposed to severe heat at least once every five years. The Arctic will be ice-free during summer every 10 years. The coral reef will virtually disappear, and fisheries will experience 3 million tonnes decline. Allowing 2 degrees warming will negatively impact ecosystems (13% of Earth’s land area will see a shift of ecosystems into new biomes), 6.6 million km2 of Arctic permafrost will thaw and maize harvests in tropics will be reduced by 7%.
Even though there is more than a 98% consensus among scientists that climate change is a real threat, there are still people denying that global warming exists. But I looked closer at some natural disasters that occurred in 2018 and there is no doubt that this crisis already exists, and that climate change worsens some types of natural disasters. And unless we act, it is only going to get worse.
Within the last decade, an average number of natural disasters in the world in one year rose from 447 to 556 and financial costs were increased from $104 to 123 billion in comparison to the average from the last 30 years. According to data from the Centre of Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, in 2018 approximately 5,000 people died and around 29 million needed emergency assistance or humanitarian aid as a result of extreme weather. The so-called ‘the Beast from the East’ – a strong blast of cold air from Siberia in February and March and series of heatwaves in Europe during summer affected the whole continent, causing death and bringing chaos to the infrastructure. While in Africa, record-breaking rains in northern Kenya and Somalia displaced more than 200,000 people and caused a cholera outbreak.
It got even worse! Drought in Central America led to 2 million farmers being at risk of hunger, with many fleeing to the USA in July. Deadly hurricanes hit the USA, Central America and the Caribbean, killing 88 people and causing damages which estimated worth exceeded $32 billion. And even though it is challenging to link any one storm to climate change, scientists predict that hurricanes could become more intense and destructive as the climate warms. Argentina suffered from the biggest drought in the past 50 years. The key agriculture sector plummeted by 31%, severely affecting Argentina’s economy, pushing the country into recession.
In Asia, a powerful monsoon rain caused the worst in the past 80 years flooding in Kerala state, South India. Almost 500 people died and over million were relocated too temporary camps: the cost of damages exceeded $3.7 billion. A drought left Afghanistan with a food shortage forcing 300,000 from their homes. The strongest storm of the year also wreaked devastation on Guam, the Philippines, and parts of south China in September. Super typhoon, Mangkhut, recorded wind speeds of up to 175mph, the equivalent to a strong category 5 hurricane, and was responsible for more than 100 deaths. A study published this year by the World Bank suggests that climate change is already affecting more than 800 million people living in South Asia, and the situation will get worse in the future.
Looking from a global perspective, 2018 year was the fourth hottest on record. Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) for 2018 was around 3.7 millimetres higher than in 2017 and the highest on record. I have listed only a few deadly disasters that occurred last year. Indeed, the causes of these and the other major disasters of 2018 were complex, with many contributing factors but, without doubt, climate change played a significant role in many of them, creating riskier conditions for storms and fires to arise in.
Food security is being threatened, extreme weather is causes millions of people to be displaced, communities are being exposed to heatwaves, and there is coral bleaching and reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. All those adverse effects of climate change are no longer a future threat. It is something happening now. I feel that in public debate there is too much focus on future problems, predictions and years left until we experience threats of global warming: In my opinion, we should however also highlight the problems that we are already facing due to climate change like the disasters in 2018 that negatively affected 29 million people around the globe.
There are still too many climate change sceptics and deniers but more than that there is a need for a change in public perception so that everyone realises that climate change is not a future problem for other generations but a contemporary issue. I hope that by focusing our attention on disasters and weather extremes that have already taken place, more people will start acting to mitigate the impact of climate change on our planet and to prevent further climate change.