Sec. of State Clinton attributes Pakistan flooding, other extreme events in part to climate change

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview on Pakistan TV, said “there is a linkage” between the recent spate of deadly natural disasters and climate change… “We are changing the climate of the world.” Notwithstanding the scientific complexities of attribution of patterns of meterological events to ongoing global climatic disruption, and how this relationship can be most appropriately framed in public communication, this is an interesting high-level Obama Administration statement.  To what extent does Secretary Clinton’s statement suggest a commitment by the President to substantial follow-on policy responses, both to immediate events and to developing adaptive preparedness for anticipated consequences of climatic change over time?

Earlier CSW post with links to additional statements:

August 13: Are 2010 weather extremes a sign of global climate change? CSW interview on Al Jazeera English TV

Fox News reported August 21 (excerpt):

Clinton Invokes Climate Change Debate to Explain Pakistan Floods

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials are pointing to the devastating floods in Pakistan and other extreme weather events as signs that climate change is getting worse.

Clinton, in an interview with Pakistan’s Dawn TV, said “there is a linkage” between the recent spate of deadly natural disasters and climate change.

“You can’t point to any particular disaster and say, ‘it was caused by,’ but we are changing the climate of the world,” she said.

Clinton said that on top of the Pakistan floods, which have forced millions out of their homes, the forest fires in Russia stand as another example. She said there’s no “direct link” between the disasters in Pakistan and Russia but that “when you have the changes in climate that affect weather that we’re now seeing, I think the predictions of more natural disasters are unfortunately being played out.” …

ClimateWire/New York Times reported August 18 on an interview with Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Director of the World Climate Research Programme in Geneva (excerpt):

Pakistan—A Sad New Benchmark in Climate-Related Disasters

By Nathanial Gronewald of ClimateWire

UNITED NATIONS—Devastating flooding that has swamped one-fifth of Pakistan and left millions homeless is likely the worst natural disaster to date attributable to climate change, U.N. officials and climatologists are now openly saying.

Most experts are still cautioning against tying any specific event directly to emissions of greenhouse gases. But scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva say there’s no doubt that higher Atlantic Ocean temperatures contributed to the disaster begun late last month.

Atmospheric anomalies that led to the floods are also directly related to the same weather phenomena that a caused the record heat wave in Russia and flooding and mudslides in western China, said Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme…. And if the forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are correct, then Pakistan’s misery is just a sign of more to come, said Asrar.

“There’s no doubt that clearly the climate change is contributing, a major contributing factor,” Asrar said in an interview. “We cannot definitely use one case to kind of establish precedents, but there are a few facts that point towards climate change as having to do with this.” …

The hottest summer ever recorded in 130 years has sparked thousands of wildfires in Russia, burning some entire villages to the ground, killing 53 and leaving 3,500 homeless, according to Russian state media. Cooler temperatures are finally bringing some relief, shrinking the extent of the flames from more than 100,000 acres down to about 54,000 acres.

Next to Pakistan, record rainfall and subsequent flooding and mudslides in western China are estimated to have left roughly 1,200 dead and scores more homeless. China’s government has been handling that crisis on its own and has yet to appeal for international support.

Russia’s drought has reduced its wheat crop by 20 percent, and droughts in Canada are anticipated to reduce the crop there by an equal proportion.

Less reported, on Aug. 5, a sensor on a NASA satellite recorded a massive chunk of ice breaking off a glacier in Greenland. The huge block measures more than 77 square miles in size and is one of the largest calving incidents witnessed in the Northern Hemisphere.

Asrar and other [World Meteorological Organization] officials argue that the evidence linking all these events to climate change is strong….

[read the rest of the article here]

Dr. Asrar, as the principal representative from NASA, was Vice-Chair of the U.S. Global Change Research Program/Climate Change Science Program (where I worked in the coordination office) during the Bush-Cheney Administration. In that role, under those political circumstances, he (like the other senior program leaders) was not known for being so straightforward in his public statements about climate change.

See also this August 19 post by Prof. Ricky Rood at (my alma mater) the University of Michigan’s Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, on Nick Sundt’s World Wildlife Fund Climate Blog – Pakistan Floods “a Case Study of a Climate Disaster” Showing Need to Slow Climate Change, Prepare for Impacts. Prof. Rood leads with:

What is happening in Pakistan cannot be described in a single word – like disaster or catastrophe. We are watching a combination of climate, weather, population, societal capacity, and geopolitics whose scope and ramifications are far beyond a “historic flood.”

And concludes:

If we reduce our emissions, then maybe we will responsibly reduce these events for our grandchildren – reduce the cost. It is imperative that we start to build adaptive capacity. In our efforts to develop and maintain and sustain our infrastructure, consider what extreme climate events will mean.

The post includes numerous links to additional online resources.

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