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Climate

UN report delivered in Warsaw foresees weakened defenses for future Haiyans

This year is the seventh-warmest since records began in 1850, the World Meteorological Organization has announced. Rising sea levels are aggravating the impact of storms such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

In a statement at international climate talks in Warsaw on Wednesday, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said more greenhouse gases would make extreme weather inevitable. Such events include typhoons such as Haiyan, which hit the Philippines last Friday as one of the most intense storms in history, the WMO reported. Scientists call storms exceeding 74 miles per hour (119 kph) hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the northwest Pacific.

"This year once again continues the underlying, long-term trend" toward higher temperatures caused by global warming," Jarraud said.

The first nine months of 2013 tied with the same period of 2003 for seventh-warmest, with average global land and ocean surface temperatures 0.48 degrees Celsius (0.86F) above the 1961-1990 average. The WMO reported the three warmest years on record as 2010, 2005 and 1998. Melting ice and an expansion of water as oceans warm have worsened storm surges and proved especially rapid in the western Pacific Ocean, driven by local changes in winds and sea currents.

"Although individual tropical cyclones cannot be directly attributed to climate change, higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges," Jarraud said in the statement. "We saw this with tragic consequences in the Philippines."

'Much, much higher'

The world faces potentially devastating effects. In addition to megastorms, scientists expect impacts include species extinctions, water shortages, heat waves or drought, crop die-offs, loss of land to the rising seas as glaciers and polar ice melt, and spreading disease. This year saw record heat and floods on multiple continents.

One tidal gauge at Legaspi in the Philippines showed a rise of 35 centimeters (14 inches) in average sea levels from 1950 to 2010, against a global average of 10 centimeters. The current average rise doubles the 20th-century trend of 1.6 millimeters (0.06 inches) per year.

"The risk is getting much, much higher, and vulnerability is getting higher," Jarraud said.

Numbers going up

Arctic sea ice, meanwhile, shrank to its sixth-smallest summer area, albeit recovering slightly from the unprecedented melt of 2012. Apparently bucking the warming trend, sea ice around Antarctica expanded to a record extent. However, the WMO reported that "wind patterns and ocean currents tend to isolate Antarctica from global weather patterns, keeping it cold."

In a report last week, the WMO found that in 2012 concentrations of greenhouse gases hit a new high of 393.1 parts per million, a rise of 2.2 ppm over the previous year and an increase of 41 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750.

"We expect them to reach unprecedented levels yet again in 2013," Jarraud said. "This means that we are committed to a warmer future,"

Concluding on November 22, the Warsaw talks have brought together nearly 200 nations to achieve a long-term deal to confront global warming, set for final agreement in 2015 in Paris.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)