Scientists are to outline dramatic evidence that global warming threatens the planet in a new and unexpected way – by triggering earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches and volcanic eruptions.
Reports by international groups of researchers – to be presented at a London conference next week – will show that climate change, caused by rising outputs of carbon dioxide from vehicles, factories and power stations, will not only affect the atmosphere and the sea but will alter the geology of the Earth.
Melting glaciers will set off avalanches, floods and mud flows in the Alps and other mountain ranges; torrential rainfall in the UK is likely to cause widespread erosion; while disappearing Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets threaten to let loose underwater landslides, triggering tsunamis that could even strike the seas around Britain.
Climate change may not be responsible for the recent skyrocketing cost of natural disasters, but it is very likely that it will impact future catastrophes. Climate models provide a glimpse of the future, and while they do not agree on all of the details, most models predict a few general trends. First, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will probably boost temperatures over most land surfaces, though the exact change will vary regionally. More uncertain—but possible—outcomes of an increase in global temperatures include increased risk of drought and increased intensity of storms, including tropical cyclones with higher wind speeds, a wetter Asian monsoon, and, possibly, more intense mid-latitude storms
In many ways, the shift is the result of realities that have already taken hold on the ground.
For United States disaster response, missions have in many cases grown longer because the humanitarian crises have made existing development shortcomings worse, notes Carla Koppell, vice president for applied conflict resolution at the US Institute of Peace in Washington.
“It used to be that a USAID DART [Disaster Assistance Response Team] assumed six months on the ground for getting a job done,” says Ms. Koppell, a former chief strategy officer at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “Those teams are in there now for years in some cases.”
“We’re seeing a shift both in terms of the longevity of humanitarian crises and, as a result of that, a growing overlap with folks who come in post-emergency to work on the durable gains of the development side,” she adds.
The extended conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and parts of Africa are driving much of the rethink. For instance, if school-aged children uprooted by war have to wait for those wars to end to go to school, they risk being robbed of any education, as the UN’s Brown noted.
The new education fund aims to offer up to five years of emergency education to displaced children – not just weeks or months, as is now often the case.
But multiplying and intensifying climate-related disasters are also playing a role. Armed conflicts may grab global attention, but climate change is displacing tens of thousands of people every day and increasing instability that can lead to conflict, UN officials say.
“The demand for emergency assistance far outstrips supply,” says Josefina Stubbs, associate vice president and chief strategist at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. “We cannot keep jumping from crisis to crisis. We have to invest in long-term development that helps people cope with shocks so that they can continue to grow enough food for their communities and not require emergency aid.”