Earth: the global recession of extreme weather

Published November 17, 2017, 7:37 AM

On 16 October 2017, residents of the Pacific Northwest area of Canada were devastated by floods caused by heavy rains. Not only did they experience an explosion of rivers, flowing hundreds of kilometres upstream and into communities, but their area, B.C., now knows it has suffered damage greater than, and is much more severe than, any previous disaster caused by severe weather events such as landslides, cyclones, or floods.

The extent of the damage is due in part to the historic extreme weather patterns that are projected to happen around the world in response to climate change. An analysis of water flow data from around the world in 2016 by the University of British Columbia and Google Global Research shows the impacts caused by extreme precipitation events are increasing worldwide. The analysis did not include B.C. where the wet season floods were actually caused by higher than average rainfall during a shortened, rather dry, rainy period.

According to the analysis the effect of weather patterns on floods around the world is clear, increasing the extremeiness of floods by 74% and severity by 42%. It is a global phenomenon, with more than 7,000 extreme events happening per year and increasing in magnitude year on year, affecting over 120 million people, and costing nearly $130 billion (€94 billion) in damages. The analysis doesn’t include impacts to the Great Lakes region, nor does it take into account the widespread impacts seen in the US after Hurricane Harvey.

In response to the situation, B.C.’s Ministry of Environment has launched a review to determine the cause and scope of what caused the flooding, and implement a plan to minimise similar events in the future. The Province is already studying the situation, including in its Strategic Storm Damage Priorities (SCDP) report and plan to identify the best lines of defence in the province.

These impacts show what humans are up against as we try to mitigate, adapt to, and manage climate change. It is clear we are facing more frequent weather extremes, more intense floods, and more disruptive and potentially damaging weather that affects our lives and has huge impacts on our economy and the economies of other countries.

For this to change, people around the world need to take meaningful action on climate change at all levels of government, as well as at every level of individual responsibility. All of us – governments, citizens, business, and industry – are going to have to make sure that we will minimize the risks of our bad behaviour in the face of ever more extreme weather. And we must do so while continuing to mitigate our carbon emissions and reduce the likelihood of devastating effects of climate change.

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