Heatwaves, hurricanes, floods: 2017 costliest year ever for extreme weather and climate events, says UN
“The start of 2018 has continued where 2017 left off – with extreme weather claiming lives and destroying livelihoods,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Thursday.
Now in its 25th year, the WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2017 drew attention to the high impact that extreme weather had on economic development, food security, health and migration, pointing to estimates showing disaster losses from weather and climate-related events at $320 billion – the largest annual total on record.
The statement confirmed that last year was one of the three warmest on record, and the warmest not influenced by an El Niño event. It also examined other long-term indicators of climate change, such as increasing carbon dioxide concentrations, sea level rise, shrinking sea ice and ocean heat.
“The Arctic experienced unusually high temperatures, whilst densely populated areas in the northern hemisphere were gripped by bitter cold and damaging winter storms. Australia and Argentina suffered extreme heatwaves, whilst drought continued in Kenya and Somalia, and the South African city of Cape Town struggled with acute water shortages,” Mr. Taalas reflected on 2017.
According to the report, the North Atlantic hurricane season was not only the costliest ever for the United States, but it also eradicated decades of small Caribbean islands’ development gains.
“Since the inaugural Statement on the State of the Global Climate, in 1993, scientific understanding of our complex climate system has progressed rapidly,” Mr. Taalas stated.
“This includes our ability to document the occurrence of extreme weather and climate events, the degree to which they can be attributed to human influences, and the correlation of climate change with epidemics and vector-borne diseases,” he continued.
Compiled by WMO with input from national meteorological services and UN partners, the statement details that 2017 global mean temperatures were about 1.1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.
The report also provided detailed information to support the international agenda on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.
“In the past quarter of a century, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from 360 parts per million to more than 400 ppm. They will remain above that level for generations to come, committing our planet to a warmer future, with more weather, climate and water extremes,” Mr. Taalas asserted.
The report revealed that the overall risk of heat-related illness or death has climbed steadily since 1980, with around 30 per cent of the world’s population now living in climatic conditions that deliver potentially deadly temperatures at least 20 days a year.
Additionally, from November 2016 to December 2017, 892,000 drought-related displacements were recorded.
“Now more than ever, we need to be weather-ready, climate-smart and water-wise,” concluded Mr. Taalas.
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Studying water scarcity trends, helping communities adapt can ease migration pressures, says UN agency
The worst impacted are those dependent on agriculture, explained José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), noting that some among them, especially the poorest, may see no alternative to migrate and in search of better livelihoods.
“Migration should be a choice, and not the only remaining option,” he stressed.
Exploring this intricate linkages in its new report, Water Stress and Human Migration, the UN agency also found that full information on these dynamics is lacking for India, Central Asia, the Middle East and central Sahel – areas expected to be hit with above-average surface temperature increases and worsening water scarcity in the next 30 years.
Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure coupled with rising temperatures, human demand (such as for agriculture, energy and industrial sectors) and greater rainfall extremes are expected to add to the water stress.
“While some studies demonstrate a correlation between water stress and higher outmigration, the causal interaction is still not clearly understood,” states the report, underscoring the importance to ensure that the water scarcity and migration does not become a case of “mutual aggravation.”
Adapting to water woes can help ease burden
Better adaption strategies, including ones that account for climate change impacts, to mitigate the compulsion to migrate is therefore vital.
“Analyzing water scarcity trends and engaging in preparedness are particularly valuable, allowing time to intervene to mitigate pressure for forced migration,” said Eduardo Mansur, a senior FAO official on water and land issues.
“Enabling proactive adaptation is a more effective and sustainable strategy than offering a reactive humanitarian response in the face of large-scale distress,” he added.
At the same time, the report also highlights that migrants can positively contribute to water management and development in both origin and host communities through good practices, skills and knowledge transfer, and the use of remittances.
In addition, it also calls for increased attention to the concept of environmental migration as well as more data to understand and pre-empt trends in a timely way.
The theme for this year’s World Water Day is ‘Nature for Water’ which exploring nature-based solutions to present-day water challenges.
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As cities boom, forests key to meeting demands for water, food and energy – UN
“How we manage forests will determine how we meet this demand,” said Manoel Sobral Filho, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat (UNFFS).
He noted that growth and shifts in population, changes in climate, and innovation in knowledge and technology will undoubtedly impact future forests. “One thing I am certain of, investing in forests is essential for securing a sustainable future for communities the world over,” he added.
In his video message for the Day, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that “well-managed forests and trees in and around cities provide habitats, food and protection for many plants and animals, helping to maintain and increase biodiversity.”
This year, the International Day, observed annually on 21 March, will focus on the interlinkages between the sustainable management of forest and sustainable cities.
The theme provides an opportunity to highlight the benefits forests and trees provide to urban communities.
It is estimated that by 2050, more than half of the world’s population will face water stress. Given that forested catchments provide three-quarters of all freshwater used worldwide, safeguarding the water-providing capacity of forests is even more urgent.
Trees in cities help regulate climate, store carbon, and reduce flooding and storm water runoff. Sustainable forest management and sustainable forest products offers some of the most effective and cost-competitive natural carbon capture and storage options available.
Forests are home to over 80 per cent of biodiversity on land, and urban forests and city parks can provide important habitat for migratory birds and other fauna and flora.
Sustainable Development Goal 15 of the 2030 Agenda, adopted in 2015 by world leaders, calls for action to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” by 2030.
The UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 envisions “a world in which all types of forests and trees outside forests are sustainably managed, contribute to sustainable development and provide economic, social, environmental and cultural benefits for present and future generations.”
At UN Headquarters in New York, the Day is being celebrated with a special event featuring speeches by prominent officials, including Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Social and Economic Affairs.
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