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Rising global temperatures and extreme weather: a time to act

2011 was a year of extreme weather events around the world with the average global temperature setting a new high. 2011 was the ninth warmest year in 132 years of record keeping. Janet Larsen and Sara Rasmussen from the Earth Policy Institute report that extreme weather is now upon us, and a warming climate may exacerbate this.

We have blogged about the impacts of climate change on global cooling in the Northern Hemisphere pointing to further variation in how our planet is changing. Despite the global cooling that has been precipitated by Eurasian snow cover, and the La Nina atmospheric and oceanic circulation pattern, global temperature is on the rise.

Unsurprisingly, the abundance of carbon emissions we produce has been a major source of this warming by pushing the Earth’s climate out of its normal range. This is referred to as the “new normal” or non-stationarity (please see the ACT Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance report for further discussion). Extreme weather in the form of stronger floods and longer lasting droughts are among the events associated with the new normal as the Earth becomes warmer.

Worldwide, countries experienced rising temperatures in 2011: from Kuwait’s 53.3 degrees Celsius temperature (highest ever on Earth in the month of August), to continental weather stations in the U.S. hitting record highs, to the world’s hottest 24-hour minimum on record, 41.7 degrees Celsius in Oman in June 2011.

The Earth Policy Institute report documents a number of extreme weather events from around the world that took place in 2011 – many of which are thought to be attributable to higher global temperatures. Perhaps the most egregious of the damage resulted from flooding in Thailand where one third of the country’s provinces became submerged. Total damages exceeded $45 billion dollars (14% of national GDP) and will go down as the most expensive natural disaster in the country’s history.

The practice of adaptation sees climatic change via rising temperatures as an opportunity to mobilize governments on a fresh direction. Initiatives such as the Durban Adaptation Charter (PDF) outline a political commitment among municipalities to strengthen local resilience to climate change.

In Canada, groups like ACT are pressing the federal government to consider recommendations such as an integrated flood prediction, prevention and management program. ACT’s 2009 report Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather outlines a number of recommendations to address extreme weather events. Critical to the success of these recommendations will be institutions that are willing to embrace new programs and policies that may help alleviate the impacts of extreme weather.

article written by ACT researcher Timothy Shah

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