The Guardian has run an unprecedented banner headline in response to the record-smashing deluges that have inundated the UK: “Climate change is here now. It could lead to global conflict. Yet the politicians squabble.”
The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.
Stern says there are “powerful grounds for arguing that this [unprecedented extreme weather] is part of a trend.” Not only was the last decade the hottest on record, but “four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards.”
The UK Met[eorological] Office’s chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo said earlier this week the country was experiencing the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years.” She explained that “all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change,” and “there is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events.”
As Stern notes, “A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising.”
This UK Guardian banner headline and story is eerily reminiscent of Bloomberg’s famous post-Sandy cover, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” Again, sea level rise is worsening storm surges hitting the United States, and if don’t slash carbon pollution soon, we’ll be seeing Sandy-level storm surges every year in a half century.
The literature on the climate-deluge link couldn’t be stronger (see review article here). In 2011, the journal Nature published two seminal studies on the connection. The first, “Human contribution to more-intense precipitation extremes” (subs. req’d), found that “human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events” over most of the Northern Hemisphere. More worrisome, it also found that “the impacts of future changes in extreme precipitation, may be underestimated because models seem to underestimate the observed increase in heavy precipitation with warming.”
The second study looked at “the wettest autumn in England and Wales since records began in 1766.” This study concluded, “it is very likely that global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions substantially increased the risk of flood occurrence in England and Wales in autumn 2000.” In fact, the study found “in nine out of ten cases our model results indicate that twentieth-century anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions increased the risk of floods occurring in England and Wales in autumn 2000 by more than 20%, and in two out of three cases by more than 90%.”
Tragically, climate science makes clear that the world’s wet areas are going to get much wetter, while the dry areas are going to get much drier. Lord Stern explains what will inevitably happen if we continue our inaction and allow global temperatures to rise 7°F or more by century’s end:
The shift to such a world could cause mass migrations of hundreds of millions of people away from the worst-affected areas. That would lead to conflict and war, not peace and prosperity.
Stern recommends the UK “implement a strong price on greenhouse gas pollution across the economy … It is essential that the government seizes this opportunity to foster the wave of low-carbon technological development and innovation that will drive economic growth and avoid the enormous risks of unmanaged climate change.” The time to act is now.