Extreme weather displacing twice as many people as conflict - UN

World Meteorological Organization releases provisional ‘status of global climate’ statement

Weather-related hazards are displacing twice as many people as conflicts and violence, according to latest figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Extreme weather and climate-related events have had a negative impact on agriculture and food security, affecting more than 60 million people around the world.

The figures demonstrated the humanitarian issues that can arise from long-term changes in the environment, the World Meteorological Organization said in its provisional "status of the global climate" statement for 2016.

The new figures also "underline the need for action in these areas, particularly in Ireland where emissions are growing", said Dr Paul Deane, a research fellow at University College Cork's Environmental Research Institute..


Weather-related disasters

The WMO in its statement quoted the International Organisation for Migration, saying population migration would increase because of more intense weather-related disasters. These displaced 14.7 million people in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

And things are unlikely to improve soon on the basis of the WMO's climate report, which it presented on Monday (14th) to an international climate change meeting under way in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The WMO predicts that 2016 will go down as the hottest year on record. This means 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have all occurred in this century, with the exception being 1998.

The year has seen temperature records broken, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere topping 400 parts per million, large swathes of coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef killed and increased melting of Greenland’s ice sheets.

Temperatures have been well above normal in parts of the Arctic region, with long-term averages broken by six to seven degrees in parts of Russia, and by three degrees Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada, the WMO said.

Severe storms are also more commonplace, the WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas said. “Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen,” he said.

Hurricane Matthew

The deadliest event so far is Hurricane Matthew, which devastated Haiti as it passed over the island nation, killing at least 546 people.

Deaths also occurred from typhoons along the Pacific Rim and due to major flooding in countries including China, Sri Lanka and Mali.

Records were broken in countries around the world during the year. South Africa set all-time records including 42.7 degrees at Pretoria and 38.9 degrees at Johannesburg. Thailand set a record of 44.6 degrees and India at 51 degrees.

Mitribah in Kuwait recorded 54 degrees on July 21st, the highest temperature yet reached across all of Asia.

The Irish are doing a poor job of reducing our personal carbon footprints compared to our EU colleagues, Dr Deane said.

The Irish have one of the largest carbon footprints, at 12.6 tonnes of carbon per capita, the fourth highest in the EU. Germany is at 11.1 and the EU average is 9.2.

The report was delivered to the COP 25 meeting, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakesh.

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.