GENEVA (TheBlaze/AP) — Much of the extreme weather that wreaked havoc in Asia, Europe and the Pacific region last year can be blamed on human-induced climate change, the U.N. weather agency says.
The World Meteorological Organization’s annual assessment Monday said 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.
A rise in sea levels is leading to increasing damage from storm surges and coastal flooding, as demonstrated by Typhoon Haiyan, the agency’s Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. The typhoon in November killed at least 6,100 people and caused $13 billion in damage to the Philippines and Vietnam.
Australia, meanwhile, had its hottest year on record.
“Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change,” Jarraud said.
He also cited other costly weather disasters such as $22 billion damage from central European flooding in June, $10 billion in damage from Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan, and a $10 billion drought in much of China.
Only a few places — including the central U.S. —were cooler than normal last year, but 2013 had no El Nino, the warming of the central Pacific that happens once every few years and changes rain and temperature patterns around the world.
Jarraud spoke as top climate scientists and representatives from about 100 governments with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in Japan to complete their latest report on global warming’s impact on hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees and war.
Speaking in Geneva, Jarraud drew special attention to studies and climate modeling examining Australia’s recent heat waves, saying the high temperatures there would have been virtually impossible without the emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
“It is not possible to reproduce these heat waves in the models if you don’t take into account human influence,” he said.
Experts are also warning that people would be remiss to think the effects of climate change are in the distant future.
Past panel reports have been ignored because global warming’s effects seemed too distant in time and location, said Pennsylvania State University scientist Michael Mann.
This report finds that “it’s not far-off in the future and it’s not exotic creatures — it’s us and now,” says Mann, who didn’t work on this latest report.
If climate change continues, here’s what the panel’s report predicts in terms of consequences:
- Violence: For the first time, the panel is emphasizing the nuanced link between conflict and warming temperatures. Participating scientists say warming won’t cause wars, but it will add a destabilizing factor that will make existing threats worse.
- Food: Global food prices will rise between 3 and 84 percent by 2050 because of warmer temperatures and changes in rain patterns. Hotspots of hunger may emerge in cities.
- Water: About one-third of the world’s population will see groundwater supplies drop by more than 10 percent by 2080, when compared with 1980 levels. For every degree of warming, more of the world will have significantly less water available.
- Health: Major increases in health problems are likely, with more illnesses and injury from heat waves and fires and more food and water-borne diseases. But the report also notes that warming’s effects on health is relatively small compared with other problems, like poverty.
- Wealth: Many of the poor will get poorer. Economic growth and poverty reduction will slow down. If temperatures rise high enough, the world’s overall income may start to go down, by as much as 2 percent, but that’s difficult to forecast.
University of Colorado science policy professor Roger Pielke Jr., who has criticized the panel’s impact reports in the past, said after reading the draft summary that scientists “made vast improvements to the quality of their assessments.”
Another critic, University of Alabama Huntsville professor John Christy who accepts man-made global warming but thinks its risks are overblown — something a recent poll found many Americans would agree with — still maintained that climate change is not among the developing world’s main problems, he says.