Brace yourself for more extreme weather, warns the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The full Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation special report is due out in February next year, but a summary for policy makers was released over the weekend.

It makes for concerning reading, although the report is careful to attribute which statements it has high evidence and high confidence in  — “It is very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of warm spells, or heat waves, will increase over most land areas” — and which statements have more room for variables — “There is low confidence in projections of changes in large-scale patterns of natural climate variability”.

Some of the issues that it expresses high confidence in, or notes are likely include:

  • “It is very likely that mean sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme coastal high water levels in the future.”
  • “Development practice, policy, and outcomes are critical to shaping disaster risk, which may be increased by shortcomings in development. (high confidence)”
  •  It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe
  • There is medium confidence that droughts will intensify in the 2 st century in some seasons and areas, due to reduced precipitation and/or increased evapotranspiration.
  •  Average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, although increases may not occur in all ocean basins. It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged
  • There is high confidence that changes in heat waves, glacial retreat and/or permafrost degradation will affect high mountain phenomena such as slope instabilities, movements of mass, and glacial lake outburst floods.
  • Stronger efforts at the international level do not necessarily lead to substantive and rapid results at the local level (high confidence)

This article at Grist shows the five key points that you should take away from the latest report announcement:

  1. Extreme weather is on the rise around the world.
  2. Extreme weather and climate disasters are deadly and expensive, and losses are increasing.
  3. A warming world will likely be a more extreme world.
  4. Greenhouse-gas pollution is likely driving some of these trends.
  5. Adaptation and disaster risk management can enhance resilience in a changing climate; differences in vulnerability and exposure must be considered in the design of such initiatives.

Governments around the globe need to start taking action, says the World Resources Institute in Grist: “We have introduced five specific takeaways, but the most important message is this: We can no longer ignore the link between climate change and extreme weather events. The time for decisive action to reduce emissions, advance adaptation, and move toward a better future climate is now.”

That doesn’t mean anyone is listening, says Joe Tyrell from the New Jersey Newsroom:

“Despite the report’s bald language, the outlook remains hazy for its political impact. Particularly in the United States and United Kingdom, well-funded opposition has questioned not only the effects of human activity on the climate but the idea that the planet is heating.

Meanwhile, some policymakers in Russia and Canada have foreseen possible benefits from a northward shift of agricultural zones outweighing damage to tundra and ice caps and their native species.”

One of the report’s lead authors, Australian scientist Dr Kathleen McInnes gave a local take on the report’s findings to The Conversation:

“While more regional detail will be available when the full report is released in February next year, some of the findings for Australia are that it is likely that there has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights. While it is likely that the storm systems that affect southern Australia have moved poleward, changes in observing capabilities means there is low confidence in changes in tropical cyclone activity.

It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures on the global scale and have led to increasing extreme coastal high water due to mean sea level contributions.

Because of the nature of extremes (i.e. their rarity), changes in many extremes and their causes are assessed with lower levels of confidence due to such factors as length of observational record and the influence of natural variability. However, low confidence in an observed change neither implies nor excludes the possibility that a change has occurred.”

The report was a strong warning to developing countries that they are at the most risk of extreme weather events both due to their geographical location and the lack of preparation for such events. It does mean there may be future problems, writes Fiona Harvey in The Guardian:

“But the summary report was also hedged with caveats, reflecting the difficulty in tying specific extreme weather events to human-induced global warming. Attributing economic losses — such as the damage from storms and floods — is also tricky, because of other factors involved. Rising urbanisation and wealth mean that losses today are higher than in the past.

This point is likely to become particularly contentious in the future, as developed country governments are called upon to provide funding to the poor world to help people adapt to the effects of climate change.”

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