Hedegaard: Hurricane Sandy ‘in line with’ climate predictions


EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has put Hurricane Sandy in the same bracket as a series of extreme weather events predicted by climate scientists.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday (6 November), Hedegaard was careful to add a caveat that scientists would need to establish specific causes for the unprecedented hurricane that devastated New York.

“It’s always tricky to say that one storm is due to climate change,” she said.

“But it is a coincidence, isn’t it, that so many weather events that we are studying around the planet seem to be so much in line with what scientists had warned us would happen.”

One climate scientist told EURACTIV that he believed sea surface warming caused by climate change had influenced the hurricane’s strength.

The disaster also moved the independent New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to endorse the incumbent president Barack Obama, along with his news agency’s magazine, which ran a classic cover that simply stated: “It’s global warming, stupid”.  

Up to 40,000 New Yorkers are still homeless after the hybrid tropical cyclone-winter storm made landfall, bringing storm surges and devastating winds in its wake.

More than 110 Americans died in the hurricane and some experts say that its final financial costs could top $40 billion (€31.7 billion).

“Those are the sports of consequences that we’re going to see more and more of in the future,” Hedegaard said.

The costs of climate inaction would be more expensive than investment now, she added. “While we’re busy handling the financial crisis we must not forget that we still have a climate crisis coming up.”

Hedegaard cited the record Arctic sea ice melt, as well as other storms, droughts and forest fires.   

“That is often difficult for finance ministers to understand,” she said. “The kind of costs from hurricane sandy and the drought [are] the costs you never design politically, that you never want to pay, but they are just the ones that land on your table.”

Extreme weather events are rare, which means that statistics are not always available to analyse them. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s extreme weather report found it probable that the incidence of heat waves and floods had increased in recent years, although there are strong regional variations.

A rise in extreme coastal high water related to increases in mean sea level was also rated at between 66%-90% probability.

IPCC scientists also expressed confidence that droughts were becoming more intense and longer, particularly in southern Europe and West Africa, but in central North America and northwestern Australia the reverse seemed to be happening.

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