Environment Counts | 2011 – Year of Environmental Extremes
Author: Wendy Aritenang – Published At: 2012-08-27 14:12 – (860 Reads)
2011 was a year of environmental extremes. Major droughts and ï¬‚ooding were prominent in the news, and leading climate scientists continued their work to establish whether there is a clear relationship between extreme weather events and climate change. In the ocean, as few as 9 per cent of all species may have been identified, yet new studies show that overï¬shing, pollution and climate change severely threaten the future of ocean life. Despite the economic recession, global investments in green energy grew by nearly a third to US$211 billion in 2010. An investment of 2 per cent of GDP in ten key sectors could signiï¬cantly accelerate the transition to a more sustainable, low-carbon economy. UNEP Year Book 2012
2011 was a year of record-breaking weather events, which caused a large number of deaths and billions of dollars in damage. It was also the tenth warmer year and the warmest La Nina year on record, as well as the year in which the second lowest seasonal minimum extent of Arctic sea ice was recorded. Scientists have established a new international partnership to assess, on a case-by-case basis, the likelihood that exceptional weather events are caused or exacerbated by the global temperature increases observed during the past century. In addition, by investigating rainfall variability, scientists have already found evidence that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions substantially increase the risk of extreme events occurring.
An extreme weather event is deï¬ned as one that is rare within its statistical reference distribution at a particular location. While natural variability makes it very difficult to attribute individual extreme weather events to climate change, statistical analyses show that the overall trends of many extreme events are changing. A new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that climate change is leading to changes in the frequency, intensity, length, timing and spatial coverage of extreme events. According to this report, it is virtually certain (99-100 per cent probability) that the frequency and magnitude of daily high temperatures will increase during the 21st century while those of cold extremes will decrease. The IPCC report expresses great conï¬dence that there will be increases in events related to heavy precipitation and coastal high water, the latter due to rising sea levels. But despite a number of devastating ï¬‚oods in 2011, such as those in Australia, Pakistan and Thailand, evidence concerning regional long-term changes in ï¬‚ood magnitude and frequency is not as prevalent, partly because of a lack of available observational data at the appropriate time and spatial scales.
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that in the ï¬rst six months, 2011 had broken the record for the costliest year in terms of weather disasters in the United States. By the end of 2011, the United States experienced 14 â€œbillion-dollar disastersâ€ â€“ Economic losses due to disasters are higher overall in developed countries than in developing ones. As a proportion of GDP, however, losses are much higher in developing countries. Over 95 per cent of extreme event fatalities in the past several decades have occurred in developing countries. Developed countries often have better ï¬nancial and institutional mechanisms to cope with extreme events and their impacts. Future exposure and vulnerability to such events can be mitigated by integrating disaster risk reduction planning with economic development and climate change adaptation planning. Early warning and disaster risk reduction plans and strategies are essential, while documentation of individual events adds to the pool of knowledge and lessons learned. Many regions are already carrying out disaster risk reduction and preparedness activities, including public awareness initiatives and improvements to early warning systems and infrastructure.