• Typhoon Shanshan Approaches Japan on August 8, 2018. Photo credit: Lauren Dauphin, NASA Earth Observatory image
  • Global warming is already causing release of methane from permafrost at the bottom of the lake in Alaska. Photo credits: Katey Walter Anthony/ University of Alaska Fairbang
  • Monthly averages volume of Arctic sea ice from 1979 - 2017 give a clear visualisation of severity of climate change, as the fate of Arctic sea ice is circling down into 'death spiral'. Photo credit: Andy Lee Robinson, University of Washington

Climate taking heavy toll

national August 27, 2018 01:00

By Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation

8,915 Viewed

Catastrophes ahead if emission of greenhouse gases are not curbed: scientists



GLOBAL mass extinction from extreme climate change is imminent and we are certainly not ready for it, warn scientists.

The first half of this year has been a turbulent one, with many extreme, unusual and unpredictable climate disasters, which cost more than US$30 billion (Bt979 billion). However, the global intellectual community is warning that things could worsen if we fail to stop the rise of greenhouse gases. 

This year has been hit by some serious disasters, ranging from the powerful blizzard and cyclone that hit the United States’ Eastern Seaboard to the extreme heatwave in Europe. 

The impact of extreme weather is also being felt in Southeast Asia and Thailand, as storms and heavy rain this monsoon have inundated and caused dams to burst in many parts of the region. Yet, some provinces in Thailand’s Northeast are suffering from drought. 

Seri Suparathit, Rangsit University’s director of the Centre of Global Warming and Natural Disasters, said these extreme weather conditions were the result of climate change. 

“A hotter temperature is increasing the moisture in the atmosphere and contributing to more precipitation in many parts of the world. So this year’s flooding in the North, Northeast and West of Thailand has undoubtedly been caused by climate change,” Seri said.

“Climate change is also contributing to more arid weather in some parts of the world, which is why some provinces in the Northeast have remained dry this monsoon.” 

He also warned of more frequent and more severe hydrological disasters in the future, saying big floods like the one in 2011 or major drought of 2013 will recur in Thailand every decade instead of every 50 years. 

“Owing to changing weather conditions, Thailand will switch to a dry phase in the second half of this year, and this will continue until 2020,” he said. 

“According to estimates, a severe drought is expected during the dry season of 2020, so we have to plan our water management carefully and take preparatory measures beforehand.”

According to analysis conducted by German insurance firm Munich Re’s NatCatSERVICE, the first six months of this year has encountered approximately 430 natural disasters, which cost around $33 billion in financial losses and killed more than 3,000 people. 

Petra Law, who oversees NatCatSERVICE, said losses in the first half of the year were principally caused by geophysical, meteorological, hydrological and climatological events, as data shows that meteorological disasters in the first six months of 2018 accounted for 76 per cent of all natural disasters. This is almost twice the average level of extreme weather events from 1980 to 2017.

However, scientists warned that the extreme weather conditions experienced in the first half of this year will be minuscule compared to the deadlier and irreversible catastrophes of the “Hothouse Earth” caused by continuous emission of greenhouse gases, which will trigger massive methane unleashed from permafrost and beneath the ocean.

According to the “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” article published by PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US), humanity could face massive, abrupt, and disruptive outcomes of a Hothouse Earth, unless greenhouse gases are stabilised and maintained in a global effort. 

The authors of this article warned that the socio-economic force of human society has already altered the climate system to conditions beyond the previous interglacial conditions, which is driving the world down the path of runaway climate change.

Earlier this month, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released the study on impacts of climate change on the Arctic by Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment Project, which found out that the fuse of climate time bomb has already ignited, as methane releases from thawing Arctic permafrost has been detected.

The study noted that despite the methane releasing rate was slow, but considering to the trajectory of the warming climate, large amount of methane is expected to release into atmosphere with much faster rate within a few decades and significantly heat up the global climate.

Louis Lebel, founding director of the Unit for Social and Environmental Research at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Chiang Mai University, also cautioned that mass extinction is a possible outcome of continued failure to arrest greenhouse gases emissions.

“Emissions to date have already committed us to a much warmer world for centuries to come – even if we were to bring them down to zero quickly. And there is really not much sign of that happening. I fear we are not ready for a post-carbon lifestyle yet,” Lebel said.

Currently, amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already reached over 400 parts per million (ppm), surpassing the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 350 ppm, which will prevent the global temperature from rising over 1.5 degree Celsius and minimise the risk of triggering runaway climate change.

However, the human activities still continue to emiss CO2 still into the air and increase the annual growth rate CO2 concentration at 2.19 ppm per year.

 

This is the second report on the series "Change the Climate"

Here is the first report: Surge in coal use scuttling climate change efforts

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