Climate change report: time to start preparing for the worst
It's time to start protecting people from the impact of severe-weather events, a panel says. The report offers further evidence of how the climate change conversation is shifting.
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In 2008, tropical cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, killing more than 138,000 people. A year earlier, a slightly stronger tropical cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh, killing more than 3,400 people. Both countries fall into the “least developed” category. But the effects were far different.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Extreme weather 2012
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The IPCC report cites key differences between the two countries. Bangladesh had more experience with direct hits and since the 1970s has worked with international aid groups to improve its ability to withstand the storms. It established warning systems. It built multistory shelters for people and raised artificial knolls to accommodate 300 to 400 head of livestock as a protection from storm surges. And the country has been trying to restore mangrove forests along the coast to help blunt storm surges.
Myanmar, by contrast, had little experience with storms and, importantly, some studies point to a closed, top-down regime as an impediment to building the kind of internal collaborative links between the national government and local communities that can help pave the way for projects to improve local resilience to severe weather.
Yet in some cases, more drastic action may be needed.
Earlier this month, the president of Kiribati told the Associated Press that his cabinet had approved the purchase of 6,000 acres on the main island of Fiji that would be the country's hedge against rising sea levels. Kiribati consists of 32 low-lying coral atolls and one island spanning more than 1.3 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
“As we look toward the future, the most difficult decisions in many settings are going to involve decisions about whether there should be large-scale migration or large-scale mobilization of communities, taking them out of the regions [that are] their cultural foundation and going to other places,” says Dr. Field, director of the Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Global Ecology, based at Stanford University in California.
One potential migration candidate: Mumbai. Much of the coastal city was swamped during floods in 2005. The megacity, with a population of more than 20 million, has what IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri calls a “terrible drainage system,” as well as vast slums where housing is particularly vulnerable to floods. To accommodate growth, builders drained wetlands and removed mangroves stands that ordinarily would have buffered the flooding.
For such locations, “climate change can impose additional stresses on top of the stresses already occurring,” Field adds. “For areas already close to the borderline, additional stresses might make them uninhabitable.”
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