Thursday, December 21, 2006

Looking back in anger

One day, people of the planet Earth will examine the records for 2006 and see it as the year climate chaos really took off. They will read about the data provided by members of the World Meteorological Organisation
(WMO) just before the end of that year and look back in wonder and anger at the international paralysis in the face of overwhelming evidence about global warming. The WMO reported that the global mean surface temperature in 2006 was estimated to be +0.42°C above the 1961-1990 annual average, while since 1976, the global average temperature had risen sharply, at 0.18°C per decade. Canada experienced its mildest winter and spring on record, the USA its warmest January-September on record and the monthly temperatures in the Arctic island of Spitsbergen for January and April included new highs with anomalies of +12.6°C and +12.2°C, respectively. Persistent extreme heat affected much of eastern Australia from late December 2005 until early March with many records being set (e.g. second hottest day on record in Sydney with 44.2°C on 1 January). Several parts of Europe and the USA experienced heat waves with record temperatures in July and August. The July European-average land-surface air temperature was the warmest on record at 2.7°C above the climatological normal. In England it was the warmest autumn since official measurements began - records in central England go back to 1659.

Long-term drought continued in parts of the Greater Horn of Africa including parts of Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania. At least 11 million people were affected by food shortages; Somalia was hit by the worst drought in a decade. Severe drought conditions also affected China. Millions of hectares of crops were damaged in Sichuan province during summer and in eastern China in autumn. Significant economic losses as well as severe shortages in drinking water were other consequences. In northern Africa, rare heavy rainfall in the Sahara Desert region of Tindouf produced severe flooding in February, damaging 70% of food stocks. Again in October and November, the Great Horn of Africa countries experienced heavy rainfall associated with severe flooding. The worst hit areas were in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Somalia underwent its worst flooding in recent history; some places have received more than six times their average monthly rainfall and hundreds of thousands of people have been affected. Landed tropical cyclones caused more than 1 000 fatalities and economic losses of US $ 10 billion in China, which made 2006 the severest year in a decade. Typhoon Durian affected some 1.5 million people in the Philippines in November/December 2006, claiming more than 500 lives with hundreds still missing. In the eastern North Pacific 19 named storms developed, which is well above the average of 16. On 25 September, the maximum area of the 2006 ozone hole over the Antarctic was recorded at 29.5 million km², slightly larger than the previous record area of 29.4 million km² reached in September 2000. The year 2006 continued the pattern of sharply decreasing Arctic sea ice. Including 2006, the September rate of sea ice decline was about -8.59% per decade, or 60 421 km² per year. Looking back, people in every country will be glad that they decided to take action themselves when their leaders proved incapable of protecting the earth’s eco-systems. In dislodging the corporate and political elites from power, and replacing the anarchy of the global market economy with sustainable forms of production and exchange, the people of the planet had acted just in time.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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