Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 27 August 2023

New WMO report on climate change impacts

Source: By The Indian Express

According to a new report, released by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Asia is the world’s most disaster-prone region and it experienced 81 weather, climate and water-related disasters in 2022. These events directly affected more than 50 million people with about 5,000 getting killed and economic damage worth $ 36 billion, the report added.

Although, in 2021, the continent had been affected by around 100 natural disasters, the extent of these hazards was more prominent in 2022 — the number of people and facilities affected, and economic damage have increased.

The report came out when a super typhoon hit China after pummelling Taiwan and the northern Philippines, causing the death of at least 25 people. Just days ago, China also experienced its highest-ever temperature, 52 degree Celsius, on record on 18 July 2023.

What are the key takeaways from the report?

According to the report, while the mean temperature over Asia in 2022 was about 0.72 degree Celsius above the 1991–2020 average, it was about 1.68 degree Celsius above the 1961–1990 average. This rise in temperatures has had some severe fallouts, including an uptick in the occurrence of extreme weather events.

For instance, droughts ravaged numerous parts of Asia in 2022. China particularly suffered the most as last year, the Yangtze River Basin, located in the country’s southwest, experienced the worst drought in the last six decades. This not only affected crops and vegetation, as well as the drinking water supply but also caused an economic loss of about $ 7.6 billion.

Many other regions were hit by severe floods and extreme monsoon rainfalls. Pakistan is the most notable example – it received 60 percent of normal total monsoon rainfall within just three weeks of the start of the 2022 monsoon season, and the heavy rains resulted in urban and flash floods, landslides, and glacial lake outburst floods across the country. More than 33 million people were affected, over 1,730 people died and almost eight million people were displaced, according to the report.

In India, heavy rainfalls “lasting from May to September triggered multiple landslides and river overflows and floods, resulting in casualties and damage,” it added. In total, this flooding resulted in over 2,000 deaths and affected 1.3 million people — the disaster event caused the highest number of casualties of any disaster event in 2022 in India.

The report also said economic loss due to disasters relating to floods exceeded the average for the 2002–2021 period. Pakistan incurred a loss of over $ 15 billion, followed by China, over $ 5 billion, and India, over $ 4.2 billion.

Another extreme weather event that became a mainstay in Asia last year was heat waves. The report noted that India and Pakistan experienced “abnormally warm conditions” in the pre-monsoon season (March–May), the report mentioned. China, Hong Kong and Japan also saw the mercury rising to record high levels in 2022.

The occurrence of such incidents doesn’t come as a surprise to scientists and experts. According to the 2023 annual report from the American Meteorological Society (AMS), climate change is making the weather around the world get more extreme with more frequent floods, heat waves and droughts.

Speaking to NPR, Stephanie Herring, one of the authors of that report and a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said: “Extreme heat events are more extreme than ever… Research is showing they’re likely to become the new normal in the not so distant future.”

The WMO report also noted that the rise in frequency and severity of extreme weather events has particularly impacted the agriculture sector in Asia.For climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts, and tropical storms, more than 25 per cent of all damage and losses is associated with the agriculture sector,” it added.

Apart from natural disasters, climate change has exacerbated glaciers melting in Asia due to high temperatures and dry conditions. Four glaciers in the High Mountain Asia region, centred on the Tibetan Plateau, have recorded significant mass losses, with an accelerating trend since the mid-1990s. “At the same time, these four glaciers show an overall weaker cumulative mass loss than the average for the global reference glaciers during the period 1980–2022, the report said.

Even the sea surface temperatures in Asia are getting warmer than ever before. The report pointed out that in the north-western Arabian Sea, the Philippine Sea and the seas east of Japan, the warming rates have exceeded 0.5 degree Celsius per decade since the 1980s. It is about three times faster than the global average surface ocean warming rate.