From the record-breaking heat dome in the Pacific Northwest and the wildfires that followed, to the deadly floods in Europe and rainfall-induced landslides in India, extreme weather has frequently hit the headlines in 2021.
These heat domes, intense rainstorms as well as other phenomena like droughts, cyclones, hailstorms, strong winds and even cold waves, are classified as extreme weather events when statistics show that they are unexpected, unusual, rare, severe or have a high impact on society.
Filippos Tymvios, extreme weather expert at the Department of Meteorology in Cyprus and an EU Climate Pact Ambassador, explained that forecasters can label a weather event as ‘extreme’ by looking for answers to questions like: How often have such events occurred in the past? Or, what is the likelihood of such events happening? “It’s how we differentiate these events from ‘normal’ weather,” he said.
Extreme weather events are part of the natural variability of Earth’s climate system. “The atmosphere is a complex and dynamic system, influenced by several factors that combine together to create our ecosystem,” said Tymvios. Natural fluctuations, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, mean that not every event can be attributed to climate change. However, global warming is likely to significantly amplify its effects.
“The scientific knowledge we have at the moment assures us that changes in the occurrence or intensity of extreme weather events can be attributed to human activities,” he explained. Each of the last four decades has been warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850, and this trend is set to continue.
“Our atmosphere is heating up and human activities are affecting all parts of the climate system. The components of Earth’s climate sometimes respond to human activity over decades, and others over centuries,” said Tymvios. He added that we are likely to reach global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels at some point before 2040, even in the lowest emission scenarios.
This warming will drive shifts in climate zones as they extend towards the North and South Poles, triggering more droughts, floods, desertification, forest fires and sea level rises. “This will change the atmospheric circulation patterns that drive the weather, and will result in completely different local weather conditions,” said Tymvios. While extreme weather is not confined to any particular region of the world, climate-related disasters do affect poorer countries more severely due to poor infrastructure and limited climate change adaptation options.
Even if climate change is already happening, and the severity and frequency of extreme weather events is increasing, Thymvios believes it is possible to limit the extent of future warming and lower its impacts. “We can take action every day to reduce our ecological footprint and the mark we leave on nature and natural resources. We must stop exploiting the planet as an inexhaustible source of goods, we can recycle as much as possible and consume less energy from non-renewable sources. We can also reward companies that impose sound environmental policies. Everything we do now will make our future better.”
This is where the EU Climate Pact comes in. By taking one or more climate pledges, like walking more, cutting food waste, insulating your home to save energy and moving your money to a bank that does not invest in fossil fuels, you can reduce your carbon footprint and have a real impact on climate change.
- Publication date
- 27 August 2021