Monday 23 September 2019

Ophelia bore 'tell-tale signs' of man-made climate change

Fallen trees on Centre Park Road after Hurricane Ophelia. Photo: Mark Condren
Fallen trees on Centre Park Road after Hurricane Ophelia. Photo: Mark Condren
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Hurricane Ophelia, which struck Ireland last month, is among a series of "extraordinary" weather events this year that bear the "tell-tale signs" of rapid climate change caused by human activity.

A new report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) also says that 2017 is likely to be one of the three warmest on record, with average global temperatures now 1.1C above pre-industrial levels.

The annual 'State of the Global Climate' report was published on the opening day of UN climate talks in Bonn in Germany and comes following repeated warnings about how Ireland will be hit with more extreme weather events over the coming decades unless emissions are tackled.

The WMO report covers January to September this year, and comes after research published in recent weeks showed the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was higher than at any point over the last 800,000 years.

The WMO said the long-term indicators of climate change, including high carbon dioxide concentrations and sea-level rise, "continue unabated".

Arctic sea ice coverage is below average, and previously stable Antarctic sea ice extent is at or near a "record low".

While 2017 has been cooler than the record-setting 2016, it is very likely to be one of the three warmest years on record, and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event.

"The past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. This is part of a long-term warming trend," said WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas.

"We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50C in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in east Africa.

"Many of these events - and detailed scientific studies will determine exactly how many - bear the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities."

The WMO says the overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30pc of the world's population now living in climatic conditions with extreme hot temperatures persisting for several days a year.

Between 2000 and 2016, it says, the number of vulnerable people exposed to heatwaves has increased by 125 million.

The "significant weather and climate events" this year include a "very active" North Atlantic hurricane season, which brought Ophelia to our shores, causing devastation and the loss of three lives. There were major monsoon floods in the Indian subcontinent, and severe drought in parts of east Africa.

On May 28 last, temperatures reached 54C in Turbat, in Pakistan.

It notes: "In mid-October, Ophelia reached major hurricane status more than 1,000km farther northeast than any previous north Atlantic hurricane. It was associated with substantial damage in Ireland as a transitioning post-tropical storm, whilst winds associated with its circulation contributed to severe wildfires in Portugal and northwest Spain."

The WMO also says our changing climate is resulting in "massive internal displacement" in Somalia, with nearly 761,000 drought-related refugees recorded by the UN between November 2016 and mid-June 2017 following prolonged drought.

Irish Independent

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