More than 370,000 people around the globe have been killed by heatwaves, floods, storms and other extreme weather over the last ten years, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
Over 55,000 died as a result of a long and intense heatwave in Russia during July and August 2010, when temperatures in Moscow were above 30 degrees centigrade for 33 consecutive days. A heatwave across much of Europe in 2003 caused more than 66,000 deaths.
Between 2001 and 2010 there were also devastating floods in Eastern Europe, Africa, India, Pakistan and Australia, and long-term droughts in East Africa, the Amazon Basin and Australia. There were a record number of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic, including Hurricane Katrina, which killed over 1,800 in the US in 2005.
The deadliest storm of the decade was Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in May 2008, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing. Overall, the global death rate from extreme weather in 2001-10 was 20% higher than in the previous decade.
The WMO, a United Nations agency, described the climate extremes the world was suffering as “unprecedented”. The last decade was the warmest since measurements began in 1850, it said, and saw more national temperature records broken than ever before.
There had been a “rapid decline” in Arctic sea ice and an “accelerating loss” of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The global mean sea level had risen by three millimetres a year, twice as fast as during the last century.
Global warming was definitely happening and it was speeding up, argued WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud. “Rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are changing our climate, with far reaching implications for our environment and our oceans,” he said.
By looking at events over a decade it was possible to make meaningful assessments of climate change, he said. “On an annual basis, the global temperature curve is not a smooth one, but on a long-term basis the underlying trend is clearly in an upward direction, more so in recent times.”
Jarraud described the growing impact of heatwaves on health and mortality rates as “alarming”. He added: “Given that climate change is expected to lead to more frequent and intense heatwaves, we need to be prepared.”
The WMO’s new 100-page assessment incorporates findings from a unique survey of 139 national meteorological agencies. Nine out of every ten countries experienced their warmest decade on record.
Temperatures were particularly high in the north of the northern hemisphere, with Greenland recording temperatures in 2010 more than three degrees centigrade higher than average. Africa was also warmer than normal every year between 2001-10.
Globally 2010 was also the wettest year since records began, with above average rainfall in most regions. According to WMO, eastern US, northern and eastern Canada, and parts of Europe and central Asia were particularly sodden.