Climate change leads to more extreme weather
Heatwaves could become the new norm. And we're likely to see more intense tropical cyclones.
Levels of planet-warming greenhouse gases have rocketed in the past 100 years. This is largely due to humans burning coal, oil and gas, and cutting down forests.
If we don't stop doing these things, the planet will continue to heat up. Each degree of warming will bring more extreme weather.
Let's take a look at some of the most severe impacts of climate change.
More destructive hurricanes and typhoons
These fierce storms produce violent winds (74 miles per hour or more), dangerous waves, torrential rain and flooding.
Hurricanes and typhoons are the same thing. They're both tropical cyclones that form over warm ocean waters near the equator.
Human-caused global warming is raising sea levels and ocean temperatures. These conditions are likely to create more intense tropical cyclones – carrying higher wind speeds and more rain.
Higher storm surges
A storm surge happens when water is pushed towards the shore by strong hurricane winds. If the surge hits normal high tide, it can rear up to 20 feet or more – causing extreme flooding in coastal areas.
Climate change is likely to lead to higher storm surges as sea levels rise.
Higher sea levels give storm surges a higher starting point – increasing their size and reach when they make landfall.
The dangers of hurricanes
Intense hurricanes have increased in the past few decades, threatening more people. Dangers include: flying debris, flooding and disruption to vital services like healthcare.
Hurricanes range from (1) a risk of minimal damage to (5) catastrophic. Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, was a category 5. It's estimated to have killed over 4,600 people. Maria was one of 3 major Atlantic hurricanes to make landfall in the same year.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused a storm surge that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people in the New Orleans area.
Global warming is likely to result in more devastating hurricanes.
Greater risk of flooding
Global warming in our region means more downpours of rain, snow, hail or sleet – or as the scientists say "the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events in North America and Europe has likely increased".
Climate change will make flooding in the UK worse. It's already a huge problem. Over the past decade, severe flooding and record-breaking rainfall have inflicted misery across the nation.
And the UK Environment Agency has warned that we're going to get more intense bouts of flooding.
Flooded homes and businesses
Recent floods in the UK have left communities struggling to cope.
8,000 homes and businesses were flooded in summer 2012 after relentless heavy rain. In 2013-2014, we suffered the wettest winter for 250 years – 11,000 homes were flooded. And December 2015 was the wettest month on record. It added to a miserable winter season for the north of England – bringing flooding to 17,000 homes, shops and other buildings.
Friends of the Earth is calling on the government to defend the UK from floods and extreme weather.
What is a heatwave?
Heatwaves are long periods of unusually hot weather and humidity.
They can lead to widespread drought and increase the risk of wildfires. Heatwaves harm crops and wildlife, and are really deadly to humans. And they make air quality worse. Air stagnates so pollution sticks around in the environment instead of being replaced with fresh air.
The 2018 heatwave was made more than twice as likely by climate change, scientists have found. Countries need to urgently reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to restrict the likelihood of more intense heatwaves.
How do heatwaves affect people?
Extreme heat and high levels of air pollution are dangerous. People with heart conditions, asthma and severe allergies are most at risk.
2,000 people died during the 2003 UK heatwave. Unless the government takes urgent action on climate change, heat-related deaths will become a summer norm – with 7,000 people a year set to lose their lives by 2050.
Further afield, in Moscow a heatwave claimed over 14,000 lives in 2010. Pollution levels were 5 times greater than normal. 35,000 people were hospitalised during the Japanese heatwave in July 2018.
What causes wildfires?
Fires have broken out across Europe during the 2018 summer heatwave: from Sweden to Portugal to Greece.
Hot weather, like we've been experiencing, increases the danger of wildfires even if they've been deliberately lit by people. When forests remain drier for longer it creates the conditions for wildfires to ignite and spread.
Climate change is driving up temperatures – increasing the danger wildfires pose around the Mediterranean. And scientists expect wildfires in the American West to burn more land as temperatures continue to rise.
Wildfires are deadly
Wildfires in 2018 have caused heartache and misery.
Greece suffered its worst disasters for years. Extremely high winds fanned fires near Athens. At least 80 people died, and more than 180 were injured.
In southern Colorado a wildfire ravaged more than 130 homes and blackened nearly 170 square miles – more land than 60,000 Wembley pitches.
Even the UK has been hit. Wildfires raged in places like Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester – posing a huge risk to public health.
What causes drought?
Prolonged periods of low rainfall can lead to drought. Other factors are often involved too. Scorching hot weather causes more water to evaporate into thin air. Climate change is leading to more intense heatwaves that are drying out crops and landscapes.
Cutting down forests also contributes to drought. This is because trees hold rainwater in the ground and protect it from being dried up by the sun.
Scientists believe that climate change is increasing drought risk in regions like the Mediterranean and the West Coast of the United States.
Who is affected by drought?
Droughts are among the most expensive weather-related disasters in the world. They affect plants, animals and people. They've even been linked to kick-starting a war.
Evidence suggests that a severe drought was one of the catalysts for the desperation and unrest that descended into the Syrian civil war. And that human-caused climate change has made such droughts in the region more than twice as likely.
The 2018 heatwave has scorched land and emptied reservoirs in the UK. It's lead to hosepipe bans, dying crops and farmers struggling to feed livestock. But this is nothing compared to drought in places like southern India where it's got so bad that some farmers have taken their own lives.