By Muhammad Luqman
The very active North Atlantic hurricane season, major monsoon floods in the Indian subcontinent, and continuing severe drought in parts of east Africa contributed to 2017 being the most expensive year on record for severe weather and climate events as the climate induced losses were to the tune of US $ 320 billion , according to a report of World Meteorology Organization (WMO).
The high impact of extreme weather on economic development, food security, health and migration was highlighted in the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2017.
The report published on the occasion of World Meteorological Day on 23 March has confirmed that 2017 was one of the three warmest years on record and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. Increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level rise, shrinking sea ice, ocean heat and ocean acidification are also the manifestation of the climate change, it added.
Global mean temperatures in 2017 were about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. The five-year average 2013–2017 global temperature is the highest five-year average on record. The world’s nine warmest years have all occurred since 2005, and the five warmest since 2010.
“The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off – with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods,” the report stated.
In the past quarter of a century, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 360 parts per million to more than 400 ppm. They will remain above that level for generations to come, committing our planet to a warmer future, with more weather, climate and water extremes.
Direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 over the past 800 000 years showed natural variations between 180 and 280 ppm. “This demonstrates that today’s CO2 concentration of 400 ppm exceeds the natural variability seen over hundreds of thousands of years, “ said the Statement.
2017 was a particularly severe year for disasters with high economic impacts. According to WMO assessment, assessed total disaster losses from weather and climate-related events in 2017 at US$ 320 billion, the largest annual total on record (after adjustment for inflation).
Fuelled by warm sea surface temperatures, the North Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States and eradicated decades of developments gains in small islands in the Caribbean such as Dominica. The National Centers for Environmental Information estimated total U.S. losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria at US$ 265 billion. The World Bank estimates Dominica’s total damages and losses from the hurricane at US$ 1.3 billion or 224% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Climate impacts hit vulnerable nations especially hard, as evidenced in a recent study by the International Monetary Fund, which warned that a 1 °C increase in temperature would cut significantly economic growth rates in many low-income countries.
The overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily , with around 30% of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver potentially deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year, according to information from the World Health Organization quoted in the Statement.
In 2016, weather-related disasters displaced 23.5 million people. Consistent with previous years, the majority of these internal displacements were associated with floods or storms and occurred in the Asia-Pacific region.
Massive internal displacement in the context of drought and food insecurity continues across Somalia. From November 2016 to December 2017, 892 000 drought-related displacements were recorded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In the Horn of Africa, the failure of the 2016 rainy season was followed by a harsh January–February 2017 dry season, and a poor March-to-May rainy season. In Somalia, as of June 2017, more than half of the cropland was affected by drought, and herds had reduced by 40–60% since December 2016 due to increased mortality and distress sales, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme.
Floods affected the agricultural sector, especially in Asian countries. Heavy rains in May 2017 triggered severe flooding and landslides in south-western areas of Sri Lanka. The negative impact of floods on crop production further aggravated the food security conditions in the country already stricken by drought, according to FAO and WFP.