Since the start of the industrial era, human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. This has resulted in drastic global warming over a short period of time (1.2 degrees Celsius). Although weather across the globe will always be highly variable, research over the last decade has shown strong evidence to suggest that human-induced global warming has contributed to the increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events.
Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, drought, and flooding have always had disproportionate impacts on society and ecosystems in comparison to ‘every day’ weather. As the intensity and frequency of extreme weather increases, it is posing significant risks to many communities across the globe.
In 2021 alone, we have seen extreme heat waves impacting much of Western North America. These events have led to the disruption of food supply chains, wildfires, and spikes in heat-related illnesses and deaths. Extreme rainfall resulting in flooding has also been witnessed across much of Europe this year, is described as “terrifying” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The vast flooding has caused widespread damage to properties, lives, and livelihoods and has seen billions in economic losses.
The graph above from the Met Office highlights that events causing loss are becoming much more frequent. There is a growing sense of vulnerability worldwide, as extreme weather is the primary way in which most people are experiencing climate change.
We are currently not on track to achieve The Paris Agreement’s central aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Consequently, COP26 was marked as a landmark climate conference that must be a turning point in the climate crisis. Despite pledges made at COP26, analysts suggest that the world is still on track for 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels. Even with the promises made at COP26, 2030 emissions will still be twice as high as needed to reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius target. If more is not done to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the decade, we will simply not be able to avoid the worst of climate change.
Without these 2030 targets being strengthened, extreme weather events are likely to continue to become more common and severe, leading to more and more casualties of climate change.