UN Report: More "Extreme" Bad Weather Coming,' What We Can Do

More extreme weather events—heat waves, floods, drought—are coming our way this century, and there is new evidence that links these extreme events to climate change, according to a report issued today by the world’s most respected scientific body on climate change.


The Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation was released by the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  It says, as our colleagues at the World Resources Institute succinctly point out:

  • Extreme weather is on the rise around the world
  • Extreme weather and climate disasters are deadly and expensive, and losses are increasing
  • A warming world will likely be a more extreme world
  • Greenhouse gas pollution is likely driving some of these trends
  • 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


The much anticipated study states starkly that extreme weather will increase risks to human health and livelihoods, as well as infrastructure (fact sheet here). It also lays out the economic damage that has been caused and will be caused by extreme events, including the costs of lives lost. The report is a table-table setter for the annual climate talks later this month in Durban, South Africa, where delegates from nearly 200 countries will try once again to find ways to limit the carbon emissions that cause climate change, and help countries deal with the impacts of a warming world.


Our President, Frances Beinecke, blogged on the report earlier today, as did my colleague Kim Knowlton. If you want to depress yourself more, you can read this very nice Union of Concerned Scientists summary of extreme weather events over the past year. There are also some excellent regional fact sheets on extreme weather impacts in the U.S-- Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Southwest--prepared by Climate Central


New polling by Yale University researchers shows Americans already understands that global warming makes extreme weather more severe.


That’s kind of good news. There also some kind of good news in the IPCC report: as the world faces the ‘new normal’ of more extreme weather events, policymakers and businesses are starting to adjust. And the report details measures that can be taken to manage risks associated with extreme events, like spreading risk through insurance policies, and taking “low regret” steps such as restoring ecosystems.


Now let’s get more specific. We released our Rooftops to Rivers report on Wednesday, which details how cities of all sizes are saving money by employing green infrastructure as part of their solutions to stormwater pollution and sewage overflow problems, resulting from increased heavy rains. Those heavy rains run off paved surfaces and roofs and overwhelm sewage and storm-water systems, causing threats to drinking water and our health, while also fouling our beaches and degrading ecosystems.


Green infrastructure solutions have the added benefits of beautifying neighborhoods, cooling and cleansing the air, reducing asthma and heat-related illnesses, lowering heating and cooling energy costs, boosting economies, and supporting American jobs. Cities like New York and Philadelphia are taking the lead on this path.  In our In our recent Thirsty for Answers report we outline what 14 cities around the US are doing to prepare for climate impacts—mostly related to increased precipitation.


States are acting too. Over 12 states have preparedness plans, or are in the process of adopting them. Numerous tool kits are available for cities and states looking to implement these plans. Among the leading states are California and New York. New York this week released a comprehensive look at climate impacts, and responses to those impacts. 


But as the new IPCC report makes clear, we all need to do much, much more.