Extreme heatwaves, flooding may become commonplace as result of climate change, IPCC reports

Posted on : 2021-08-10 17:50 KST Modified on : 2021-08-10 17:50 KST
The IPCC said "multiple climate impact factors" will lead to change in all regions, with middle-latitude areas including the major world regions of Asia, Europe and the Americas no longer considered good places to live
A man sits on a stranded vehicle on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, on July 22. (Reuters/Yonhap News)
A man sits on a stranded vehicle on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China, on July 22. (Reuters/Yonhap News)

A heatwave of 50 degrees Celsius has hit North America, Western Europe is reeling from its worst flooding in a millennium and Southern Europe is suffering from raging fires.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Monday released the sixth assessment report on climate change by its Working Group I, coming to the grim conclusion that a global temperature rise of 1.5C is irreversible. The report said "multiple climate impact factors" will lead to change in all regions, with middle-latitude areas including the major world regions of Asia, Europe and the Americas no longer considered good places to live.

On its website, the IPCC posted a regional fact sheet on the effects in each area. For Asia, where Korea is, the predictions included long-term growth in rainfall, rises in daily precipitation in certain parts of East Asia and more landslides in select mountainous areas, and a high possibility of typhoons moving toward polar regions. Unusual conditions were thus expected to persist in summer, as shown by the record number of typhoons (seven) in 2019 and the longest rainy season and period of torrential rains last year.

The report blamed these changes on the reduction of polar glaciers and melting permafrost. It said melting glaciers will continue spilling water into Asia through the middle of this century, thus sea levels around the continent are expected to rise faster than the global average. Central Asia could also see no wind blowing and North Asia is predicted to see more fires.

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It was also predicted that heat wave stress will increase in South Asia (India) along with annual rainfall. "Global climate scientists are focusing on India, where there is a large population and food production is greatly influenced by seasonal rain fronts," said Kyung Hee University professor Cho Cheon-ho. "If the food-producing regions of India suffer because of climate change, it could exacerbate food shortages around the world."

As a result of global warming, a slight reduction is forecast in climate factors related to coldness, such as cold waves and heavy snow. However, experts contend that even with global warming, cold waves or snowstorms could still occur depending on topography and region.

"Warming in Korea stems from greater climate volatility in the mid-latitudes due to temperature changes in the Arctic," said National Institute of Meteorological Sciences researcher Byun Young-hwa. "Even though the absolute strength and frequency of cold waves in winter may decline, it doesn't mean they are gone altogether. There is always a chance of extreme cold waves as atmospheric circulation changes."

In Africa, Europe and the Americas, there is a high risk of composite disasters based on region and topography. As is the case in the Himalayas in Asia, glaciers continue to melt in the Swiss Alps and the central Andes in America. There could also be flooding and landslides caused by increased rainfall in mountainous areas in these regions. Urban areas filled with skyscrapers and no wind paths will take more damage from heat waves and see wind speeds decline.

The report forecasts that vegetation and waterfront areas will become even more valuable in cities as a result of this. If greenhouse gases continue to rise, the concentration of oxygen in seawater could also fall. The increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could accelerate the pace of ocean acidification.

In June, AFP reported they had obtained a copy of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment Report, which is scheduled to be released in the second half of 2022, and outlined its content. According to the report, if the average global temperature rises by 1.5-2 degrees, 1.7 billion people will be exposed to heatwaves and 420 million will suffer from thermal diseases. Flood damage could also lead to the displacement of 2.7 million people every year.

This extreme weather is ultimately linked to shortages of food and drinking water. By 2050, the number of people facing death or a threat to their life over hunger and malnutrition will rise to 80 million. Infectious diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever and the Zika virus could appear in the mid-latitudes, including Asia and Europe. In the scenario with a high concentration of greenhouse gases, 2.25 billion people in Asia, Europe and Africa will become exposed to the threat of dengue fever.

If temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees, the number of people affected by flooding in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina will rise by 100-200 percent. In the 2-degree scenario, 400 million or more people living in urban areas will be exposed to drinking water shortages. If the earth's average temperature increases by 2-3 degrees, it is forecast that 54 percent of species will become extinct by the end of the century. Furthermore, a 2-degree temperature rise will see 15 percent of permafrost disappear by 2100, with the carbon released from this amounting to 36-67 billion tons. These grim forecasts will be covered in more detail in the full report released next year.

The IPCC's Working Group I report ended with the statement, "All changes will present challenges to drinking water, energy generation and ecosystems."

By Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter

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