Australia can expect more frequent devastating floods like those in Queensland this year, and the world is facing decades of unprecedented hardship as a result of climate change, according to the chief scientific adviser to the British government.
”We are facing what I believe will be unprecedented difficult times over the next 20 to 40 years,” Professor Sir John Beddington warned. He was speaking as chairman of a panel of scientists launching a major international report about the effects of climate change on people.
The report predicts that migration will increase markedly; that millions will move into, rather than away from, environmentally vulnerable areas; and millions more will be affected but not be able to move.
According to the head of the school of geography and the environment at Oxford University, Professor David Thomas, the cities most affected would include Singapore, Shanghai, Calcutta, Dhaka in Bangladesh, and the towns and villages of the Vietnamese delta.
Australia would experience rising sea levels too but ”it will respond differently because of its different economy”, he said.
The report says that by 2060, up to 179 million people will be trapped in low-lying coastal floodplains subject to extreme weather events such as floods, storm surges, landslides and rising sea levels, unable to migrate because they are too poor or ill-equipped, or because they are restricted by political or geographic boundaries.
Two-thirds of the world’s cities with populations of more than 5 million are at least partially located in coastal zones, including rapidly growing urban centres in Asian and African ”mega-deltas”, the report said.
Other large cities would suffer water shortages, with 150 million people already living in cities where water is limited.
”Cities need to be more strategic about their location,” said Neil Adger, a professor of environmental economics and program leader at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Migration and Global Environmental Change is the result of a two-year peer-reviewed project by 350 specialists in 30 countries. It was released yesterday by Foresight, part of the British Government Office for Science, which sits within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Speaking after the launch, Sir John told the Herald that Australia should not expect the La Nina phenomenon that triggered the Queensland floods to be a once-in-a-generation event. The next one could not be predicted but it would return much more frequently than in the past.
”We know that climate change is happening,” he said. ”We know that the greenhouse gases already in the upper atmosphere will determine the climate over the next 30 years [and there will be] more droughts, floods and extreme weather.
”Since 2008, on average, 25 million people a year have been displaced by extreme weather events, and that’s in a world of relatively benign climate change.”
Professor Adger warned, ”extreme events threaten livelihoods and survival.”
The report recommended policies that allow for migration, better city planning, sustainable-low carbon economies and improved early-warning systems about catastrophic events.
The World Bank said it will meet in December to assess the report’s implications.
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