The hurricanes and wildfires that have severely damaged large areas of the United States in recent weeks have had no impact on US president Donald Trump’s determination to ignore the perils of climate change and support the coal industry.
Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and climate policy manager of the Union of Concerned Scientists, describes this as “stunning” in its ignorance. “This was not an oversight,” she says, “this is a deliberate strategy by this administration.”
The acid test will be the progress that is made in November at the annual meeting of the parties for the Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, hosted by Fiji, one of the small island states expected to be most affected by sea-level rise and more frequent storms.
Ahead of the conference, three of the UN’s most senior climate change figures have issued a statement urging world leaders to see the recent spate of disasters as a “shocking sign of things to come”.
“We will continue to live with the abnormal
and often unforeseen consequences of existing
levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,
for many, many years to come”
The three officials emphasise that there have been many more extreme weather events that have not received the publicity given to the hurricanes in the Caribbean and the United States.
They say: “The record floods across Bangladesh, India and Nepal have made life miserable for some 40 million people. More than 1,200 people have died and many people have lost their homes, crops have been destroyed, and many workplaces have been inundated. Meanwhile, in Africa, over the last 18 months 20 countries have declared drought emergencies, with major displacement taking place across the Horn of Africa.
“For those countries that are least developed the impact of disasters can be severe, stripping away livelihoods and progress on health and education; for developed and middle-income countries the economic losses from infrastructure alone can be massive.”
The three officials do not mention the Trump administration’s refusal to accept basic science, but describe the rising sea levels of 85 millimetres (3.34 inches) in the last 25 years and the potential catastrophic storm damage that coastal areas face as a result.
Then they say: “There is clear consensus: rising temperatures are increasing the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, leading to more intense rainfall and flooding in some places, and drought in others.”
They continue: “Rising and warming seas are contributing to the intensity of tropical storms worldwide. We will continue to live with the abnormal and often unforeseen consequences of existing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for many, many years to come.”
They point out that the cost of adaptation to climate change will be far cheaper than the repair bill if no action is taken.
“It is critical to remember that the long-term reduction of emissions is THE most important risk reduction tactic we have, and we must deliver on that ambition,” they write.
The three officials conclude: “The November UN Climate Conference in Bonn provides an opportunity to not only accelerate emission reductions but to also boost the serious work of ensuring that the management of climate risk is integrated into disaster risk management. Poverty, rapid urbanisation, poor land use, ecosystems decline and other risk factors will amplify the impacts of climate change.” – Climate News, 16 October 2017
Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.