Global Policy Forum

Extreme Weather: A Global Problem

Associated Press
August 7, 2007

Much of the world has experienced record-breaking weather events this year, from flooding in Asia to heat waves in Europe and snowfall in South Africa, the United Nations weather agency said Tuesday. The World Meteorological Organization said global land surface temperatures in January and April were the warmest since such data began to be recorded in 1880, at more than one degree Celsius higher than average for those months.

There have also been severe monsoon floods across South Asia; abnormally heavy rains in northern Europe, China, Sudan, Mozambique and Uruguay; extreme heat waves in southeastern Europe and Russia; and unusual snowfall in South Africa and South America this year, the meteorological agency said. "The start of the year 2007 was a very active period in terms of extreme weather events," Omar Baddour of the agency's World Climate Program said in Geneva. While most scientists believe extreme weather events will be more frequent as heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions cause global temperatures to rise, Baddour said it was impossible to say with certainty what the second half of 2007 would bring. "It is very difficult to make projections for the rest of the year," he said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN group of hundreds of experts, has noted an increasing trend in extreme weather events over the past 50 years and said irregular patterns will probably intensify. South Asia's worst monsoon flooding in recent memory has affected 30 million people in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, destroying croplands, livestock and property and raising fears of new health crises in the densely populated region. Heavy rains also hit southern China in June, with nearly 14 million people affected by floods and landslides that killed 120 people, the World Meteorological Organization said.

England and Wales this year had their wettest May and June since records began in 1766, resulting in extensive flooding and more than $6 billion in damage, as well as at least nine deaths. Germany swung from its driest April since country-wide observations started in 1901 to its wettest May on record. And torrential rains have followed weeks of severe drought in northern Bulgaria - officials said Tuesday that at least seven people have been killed in floods. Mozambique suffered its worst floods in six years in February, followed by a tropical cyclone the same month. Flooding of the Nile River in June caused damage in Sudan.

In May, Uruguay had its worst flooding since 1959. In June, the Arabian Sea had its first documented cyclone, which touched Oman and Iran. Temperatures also strayed from the expected this year. Records were broken in southeastern Europe in June and July, and in western and central Russia in May. In many European countries, April was the warmest ever recorded. Argentina and Chile saw unusually cold winter temperatures in July while South Africa had its first significant snowfall since 1981 in June.

The World Meteorological Organization and its 188 member states are working to set up an early warning system for extreme weather events. The agency also wants to improve monitoring of the impacts of climate change, particularly in poorer countries that are expected to bear the brunt of floods. As exceptionally heavy rains continued to cut a wide swath of ruin across northern India, a top UN official warned Tuesday that climate change could destroy vast swaths of farmland in the country, ultimately affecting food production and adding to the problems of already desperate peasants, The New York Times reported from New Delhi.

Even a small increase in temperatures, said Jacques Diouf, head of the Food and Agricultural Organization, could push down crop yields in the world's southern regions, even as agricultural productivity goes up in the north. A greater frequency of droughts and floods, one of the hallmarks of climate change, the agency added, could be particularly bad for agriculture. "Rain-fed agriculture in marginal areas in semi-arid and sub-humid regions is mostly at risk," Diouf said. "India could lose 125 million tons of its rain-fed cereal production - equivalent to 18 percent of its total production." That is a sign of the steep human and economic impact of extreme weather in India.

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