OSLO (Reuters) - Atlantic hurricanes and floods in India are reminders of the risks of ever more extreme weather linked to a changing climate, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Monday.
Achim Steiner said that more damaging weather extremes were in line with forecasts by the U.N. Climate Panel. He urged governments to stick to a timetable meant to end in December 2009 with a new U.N. pact to fight global warming.
“These natural disasters do reflect a pattern of change that is in line with projections” by experts on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he told Reuters in a telephone interview from Geneva.
“As you watch the hurricane season in the Atlantic, as we watch the cyclones and the flood events in India, clearly we have more reason than ever to be concerned about the unfolding of patterns that the IPCC has forecast,” he said.
He said it was impossible to link individual weather events, such as Hurricane Gustav battering the U.S. Gulf Coast on Monday, to climate change stoked by human activities led by use of fossil fuels.
But they match patterns forecast by the IPCC, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The IPCC is marking its 20th anniversary in Geneva this week.
Gustav slammed ashore on the U.S. Gulf Coast just west of New Orleans on Monday, a new blow to the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Gustav weakened to a category 1, the lowest on a five-point scale.
In India, three million people have been displaced from their homes and at least 90 killed by floods in India’s eastern state of Bihar, officials say, after the Kosi river burst a dam in Nepal. The floods are the worst in Bihar in 50 years.
In addition to the human suffering “we have an economic escalation from damage from natural disasters,” Steiner said.
Insurers Munich Re said that first-half losses from natural catastrophes totalled about $50 billion — many linked to a rising number of extreme weather events.
The main exception was $20 billion from China’s Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 70,000 people. For all of 2007, losses totalled $82 billion, it said in a July report.
“Growing populations and infrastructure means that we are going to face more and more events of this nature,” Steiner said.
Katrina was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, killing some 1,500 people and causing over $80 billion in damage.
“Natural disasters are increasingly becoming a major risk to our economies,” Steiner said. “Our societies cannot afford this, our insurance industry cannot afford an escalation of risks.”
Editing by Robert Hart