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November 21, 2011
IPCC Links Extreme Weather Events to Climate Change
    by Robert Kropp

In a summary released for policymakers in advance of its full report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers it highly likely that the increase in extreme weather events and disasters is due to man-made climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) won't be releasing its full report on the effects of climate change on extreme weather events until February, but last week it published a Summary for Policymakers. Only the most doctrinaire of climate deniers could fail to recognize the summary as essential reading.

An increase in the number of extreme weather events is considered an early warning signal of the effects of climate change. And although IPCC acknowledges that any single extreme weather event or disaster cannot be conclusively attributed to climate change, the number of them has increased since the 1950s, as has global warming.

"It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur in the 21st century on a global scale," the report states. "It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase in the 21st century over many regions."

It is very likely as well, the report continued, that "average sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme sea levels in extreme coastal high water levels."

While the report attributed only medium confidence to the finding that droughts will intensify in many areas, due to decreased precipitation and increased evaporation, it did conclude that the frequency of extreme heat waves will increase.

The report was summarized for policymakers in advance of its publication because of the vulnerability of many populations, especially those in developing nations, to the effects of climate change and extreme weather events and disasters in particular. Between 1970 and 2008, for example, more than 95% of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing nations.

"Rapid urbanization and the growth of megacities, especially in the developing countries, have led to the emergence of highly vulnerable urban communities, particularly through informal settlements and inadequate land management," the report states.

The summary for policymakers was released in advance of next week's opening of the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, where global leaders will meet yet again to try to hammer out a meaningful international agreement on addressing climate change.

The new report has already drawn criticism from advocates who find its conclusions far too conservative. Writing at Think Progress, physicist Joe Romm stated, "The thing to remember about IPCC reports is that pretty much everyone involved has to sign off on every word, so it is inevitably a least common denominator document."

"The actual scientific literature from 2011 is far more useful than this report," Romm continued. Quoting from one such report, he wrote, "Human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas."

In response to Romm's criticism, IPCC author Richard Klein wrote, "I have been impressed with the rigor with which my co-authors have assessed the climate science of both observations and projections of extreme weather and climate events. I am also impressed with the solid discussions that took place among governments and between governments and authors this week."


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