And while extensive scientific analysis is required to link climate change to last week’s catastrophic floods in Europe, a warmer atmosphere contains more moisture and already causes more rainfall in many storms around the world. There is no doubt that extreme weather events will continue to become more frequent and intense as a result of global warming. A paper published on Friday predicted a significant increase in slow but intense rainfall across Europe by the end of this century due to climate change.
“We have to adapt to the change we have already baked into the system and avoid further changes by reducing our emissions by reducing our impact on the climate,” said Richard Betts, climate scientist at the Met Office in the UK and Professor at the University of Exeter.
That message has clearly not got through to policymakers and perhaps the public too, especially in the developed world, which has retained a sense of invulnerability.
The result is a lack of preparation, even in resource-rich countries. In the USA alone, according to federal data, more than 1,000 people have died in floods since 2010. Heat deaths have increased in the southwest in recent years.
Sometimes that’s because governments have struggled to respond to disasters they have never witnessed, like the western Canadian heat wave last month, according to Jean Slick, director of the Disaster and Emergency Management Program at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. “You can have a plan, but you don’t know it will work,” said Ms. Slick.
Sometimes it’s because there are no political incentives to spend money on adjustments.
“If you build new flood infrastructure in your community, you will likely be out of office,” said Samantha Montano, professor of emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “But they’re going to have to justify the millions, billions of dollars that are being spent.”
Christopher Flavelle contributed to the coverage.