Scientists: Warming Climate Puts People At Risk

From heat waves in Australia to floods in Mozambique, global warming is already harming millions of people worldwide, says forthcoming UN report

Flooded VW Bug

This car with smashed windows near Avenue C in Manhattan was one of hundreds tossed around and flooded by an unprecedented storm surge.Dave Mosher

Dozens of the world's top climate scientists have gathered in Japan this week with representatives from around 100 countries to work on the latest United Nations report about climate change. According to leaked drafts, the report is all but calling the climate situation an emergency: Far from causing future problems for a few species bearing white fur or feathers, hotter temperatures are already changing local conditions for humans, and a lot faster than most climate researchers once believed possible.

"The polar bear is us," one American researcher told the Associated Press, which reports,

The report says scientists have already observed many changes from warming, such as an increase in heat waves in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Severe floods, such as the one that displaced 90,000 people in Mozambique in 2008, are now more common in Africa and Australia. Europe and North America are getting more intense downpours that can be damaging. Melting ice in the Arctic is not only affecting the polar bear, but already changing the culture and livelihoods of indigenous people in northern Canada.

This will be the fifth report released by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but the first underscoring connections between destabilizing climate conditions and increases in violence, according to the AP.

Meanwhile in Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on Monday released its annual roundup of the past year's global land and sea surface temperatures.

With the ocean soaking up 90 percent of the energy created by trapped atmospheric heat, rising temperatures and extreme weather events are expected for many generations, stated the WMO.

As Reuters UK reported, the WMO found that "global land and sea surface temperature in 2013 was 14.5 degrees Celsius (58.1 Fahrenheit), or 0.50C (0.90F) above the 1961-90 average. It was also 0.03C (0.05F) up on the average for 2001-2010."

WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud told reporters, “[M]any of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change," such as the destruction Typhoon Haiyan wreaked in the Philippines. (The image below is a view from space of that enormous 2013 storm.)

Taking direct aim at the mistaken but widely circulated idea that there has been a "pause" in global warming, the WMO emphasized that 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have happened in this century. "Levels of these greenhouse gases are at a record, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come." Jarraud told reporters. "The laws of physics are non-negotiable."

Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Philippines

Copyright 2013 JMA/EUMETSAT