The Philippines’ devastating Typhoon Haiyan and drought in Australia were among recent weather extremes consistent with man-made climate change, the UN’s weather agency says.
“Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change,” Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meterological Organisation (WMO), said as he released his agency’s annual climate report.
“We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise — as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines,” he added.
The WMO also pointed to data from Australia showing that the country’s record heat last year would have been “virtually impossible” without human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Other weather events flagged by the agency included extreme cold in Europe and the United States, floods in India, Nepal, northern China, Russia, central Europe, Sudan and Somalia, snow in the Middle East, and a major drought in southern China and Brazil.
Natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or the El Nino and La Nina weather patterns in the Pacific have always influenced temperatures and caused occasional weather disasters, but the human role is an accelerator, Jarraud explained.
“There is no standstill in global warming. The warming of our oceans has accelerated, and at lower depths. More than 90 per cent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans,” he said.
“Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. The laws of physics are non-negotiable,” he added.
The report said 2013 tied with 2007 as the sixth warmest on record.
The average global land and ocean surface temperature for the year was 14.5 degrees Celsius (58.1 degrees Fahrenheit) — 0.5 C (0.9 F) above the 1961-1990 average and 0.03 C (0.05 F) higher than the average for 2001-2010, which was already the warmest decade on record.
Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record occurred in the 21st century, and each of the last three decades has been warmer than the last.
Researchers have long warned that the chance is ebbing fast to limit global warming to 2.0 C (3.6 F) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels — the target of the UN.
There is little international agreement on how to slow emissions of greenhouse gases — notably carbon dioxide — pumped out by industry, transport and agriculture.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s Nobel-winning group of scientists, has said that global emissions of greenhouse gases surged by an average 2.2 per cent per year between 2000 and 2010.
This compared to 1.3 per cent per year between 1970 and 2000.
Some experts say that on current trends, warming by 2100 could be 4.0 C (7.2 F) or higher, spelling more severe droughts, floods, storms and hunger for many millions of people.