The European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has released an update to a 2013 report that confirms a worrying trend throughout Europe and around the world: extreme weather events are on the rise.
The original report documented an increase in the number of extreme weather events from 1980-2012, and the new update has built on these data and shown a further increase in the frequency of extreme weather events over the course of recent years.
The new report from EASAC, released Wednesday, provides global data from 2013-2016 on extreme geophysical, meteorological, climatological, and hydrological events, in addition to previous data from 1980 onward.
Since 1980, the number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions has been steadily increasing. The number of storms has since doubled. Events including draughts, fires, and heat waves have more than doubled in frequency. Perhaps the most significant figure, hydrological events like landslides and floods have quadrupled in frequency over the course of 36 years, and the number of these events has recently doubled since 2004.
Michael Norton, the director for EASAC’s Environmental Programme gave a statement this week highlighting the importance of these data in calling for action on climate change. According to Norton, “policy makers and lay people think climate change is something gradual and linear, but we need to keep explaining that the gradual change is increasing the chance for dangerous extremes.”
In other words, though climate change may be relatively slow, its effectives are cumulative, and extreme or catastrophic weather events are increasing faster over the years as a result.
These events do not come without cost. In North America, thunderstorms resulted in nearly $20 billion in losses in the year 2015 – twice the amount recorded in 1980, according to EASAC. However, the report does include what is called a “positive note” in this week’s press release: despite recent increases in the number of floods, river flood losses in Europe have remained relatively constant over the years, a fact that EASAC attributes to the success of Europe’s flood protection measures.
Such protection measures under the broad scope of “climate proofing” are called for by the EASAC in order to ensure Europe can successfully adapt to the impact of extreme weather events.
With the original 2013 report, EASAC provided several recommendations for the EU on how Europe can respond to the growing threat of climate change. In addition to the development of climate models that can predict trends in extreme weather, research on protecting public health during heat waves is necessary, as well as a plan to guide and protect the agricultural industry from such extreme events. The EU should push for the widespread practice of flood preparedness and response across Europe. In addition, scientists and science policy makers must highlight the many barriers in society that block the path to successful climate-change adaptation and decide how to overcome these barriers quickly and effectively.
In the new report, EASAC also pushes for scientists to continue oceanographic research into the effects of climate change on the decline of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
(a system of ocean currents that includes the Gulf Stream), which has a major influence on the climate of Northwest Europe.
The updated report from EASAC this year comes before the European Commission is expected to release its climate strategy evaluation. According to Michael Norton, climate proofing is now “all the more urgent.”