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Extreme weather is all about climate change

This week serious floods in Cornwall, and in September, floods in Ayrshire and Aberdeenshire. Last year, unprecedented rains and flooding in Cumbria; in 2008 Wales and the Midlands; in 2007 Humber, Yorkshire and Gloucestershire and in 2006, Norfolk and Suffolk. Extreme rain and flooding are becoming more frequent events in the UK.

The floods come as one of the climate change deniers’ key myths has been exploded by a report by US and British meteorologists. It confirms that not only is the earth’s surface warming, but the troposphere – the area where weather happens – is warming too.

This is entirely in line with climate science predictions of what happens as greenhouse gases build up in the upper atmosphere. And it means more extreme weather – both drought and floods – and not in the future, but now.

This year, terrible floods in Pakistan affected 15 million people, 300,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and two million left homeless. Public infrastructure of health, education, governance, roads and rail were destroyed in some areas.

There have also been heat waves and wildfires in Russia and Ukraine. Ten million people are currently facing starvation in Chad and Niger after years of drought followed by flash floods. More than a thousand people were killed in landslides triggered by torrential rain in China’s Gansu province. Deforestation, reckless development and political neglect all play a part in these tragedies, but the weather is the major cause.

This year’s hurricane season brought 19 major storms to Mexico and Central America. Weeks of heavy rains triggered landslides in Central America, killing hundreds of people and destroying infrastructure. In Mexico, swollen rivers washed away fields and coastal towns were submerged when tropical storms surged ashore. This wet weather followed a year of severe drought, with the lowest rainfall in 68 years. Cattle and crops all died in some of the driest parts of Mexico.

“This is our new life with climate change," said Gabino Cue, governor of Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca. One of Mexico's poorest states, it faces a $163-million bill for repairing roads, bridges and public buildings damaged by the floods. The cost of extreme weather to Latin America and the Caribbean could equal 137 percent of the region's current economic output by 2100, according to a United Nations report.

So when officials gather in Cancun later this month to try to negotiate a follow-on treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, the evidence of the impact of climate change will be all around them. Climate change models show the situation can only get worse as temperatures rise.

In spite of all that, the officials are not planning to sign any agreement, and people across the globe will pay the price. The sole result of the last round of climate talks in Copenhagen was a commitment to funding for climate change mitigation in the form of aid from richer to poorer countries. In advance of the Cancun meeting, the European Union published claims to have fulfilled a pledge of 2.2 billion euros ($3 billion) to be delivered on a ‘fast track’. But Oxfam challenges this, suggesting that money from existing pledges is simply being rebranded.

The whole UN process, which started with high hopes of success in 1992, has become a process specifically aimed at avoiding action and channelling people’s anger and fears into a bureaucratic dead end. To escape this impasse we need an urgent action plan for climate change, thinking globally and acting locally. For example, People’s Assemblies in flood-affected areas would plan to mitigate the effects. In Britain, they would reverse the government cuts in spending on flood defences which has been reduced from £335m a year to £261m a year for the next four years.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
18 November 2010

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Dave says:

sorry I dont agree, climate change is endemic to the earth, huge and long lasting change ,far far more dramatic than anything you described has happened to the earth in the past. 5,000 years ago the whole population of Britain left and moved south through Europe as oceans froze and the ice age sealed Britain into the ice cap. There were no nasty coalminers in those days and noone driving cars, so it wasnt CO2. At other times the oceans evaporated and left huge deposites of salt, million of years on millions of years. Oceans boiled and oceans froze, land sunk and new lands rose. Climate change is as natural as the planet and actually we wouldnt be here if it wasnt for it. We cant stop it. True we can minimise our impact in the way we use fossil fuels, but bland green 'solutions' about wind, turning back the clock and stopping the earth to let the 21 century get off, will not work. Third world people need development, devevopment comes with energy and electricity. They will burn the resources theyve got, COAL. We must develop clean coal technologies, fair distribution of wealth and power, a fair balance between unspoled nature, climate and development, all of which are interlocked. Focus on 'climate change' in abstract severly misses the point, the problem and the solution.

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