Many countries have seen the effects of catastrophic wildfires and floods, resulting in fatalities and damage on an unprecedented scale in recent decades. Described as a 1-in-400-year event, the 2021 European floods caused billions in damages, left at least 196 people dead in Germany alone and shut down rail transport across the Benelux countries. Elsewhere, floods in China’s Henan province in July, in which 302 people died and 9.3 million others were affected, stemmed from the worst torrential downpours in 1,000 years.
Similarly, the deluge from ex-Hurricane Ida in the United States (US) in September triggered the first-ever flash flood emergency in New York City; at least 43 people died and public transportation was shut down across the Northeast region. Climate change is driving these extreme weather events and will exacerbate them in the future, testing the limits of emergency readiness and infrastructure.
The scale of floods and wildfires as well as increasingly brutal heatwaves are expected to accelerate the already ongoing phenomenon of climate migration and render some areas permanently uninhabitable. Droughts are likely to intensify in Northern and Central America, South, Central and East Asia, Western Europe and Africa. More destructive hurricanes and cyclones which will last for longer periods have already been forecast in the North Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, and the Arabian Peninsula in 2022.
Meeting the disruptions caused by extreme weather will require a more ambitious plan against climate change, as well as adaptive infrastructure and boosting emergency services to withstand the effect of future natural disasters, aspects which were discussed at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow. Around 19 nations, including the United States (US), Canada, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Gambia, Ethiopia and the Marshall Islands agreed to end their financing of international fossil fuel projects (including coal, oil and gas) by end of 2022 and redirect these investments towards clean energy; overall, more than 40 countries, including Poland, Chile and Vietnam, announced plans to phase out coal power projects by 2030 in developed countries and 2040 in poorer nations.
It remains to be seen if the planned investments in clean energy by these countries can help them meet their targets set for 2030 and beyond to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. At present trends, the outcome of 2.4 degrees Celsius (36.3 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100 would be an achievement. Anything lower than that, even by fractions of a degree, would be both a significant accomplishment and lower the anticipated costs of climate change.