Climate change is making extreme weather events more common: study

Scientists and forecasters who study the connection between climate change and extreme weather say the rapid rates of sea-level rise are accelerating the frequency and intensity of severe weather events—like hurricanes, heat waves and more. Claudia Tebaldi, Climate Scientist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, joins to discuss her latest report on the global impacts of rising sea levels.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There has been no shortage of dramatic weather events around the globe this year. Scientists and forecasters who study the connection between climate change and extreme weather say the rapid rates of sea-level rise are accelerating the frequency and intensity of severe weather events. I recently spoke with Claudia Tebaldi, a climate scientist with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, about her latest report on the global impacts of rising sea levels.

  • Claudia Tebaldi:

    Just because of sea-level rise, what used to be a 100-year event right now will become an annual event and this happens, unfortunately, at many locations around the world, even with warming that is limited to one and a half degrees, which is, as you know, a very at this point aspirational goal. Unfortunately, the last IPCC report has said that we may hit one and a half degrees in the 2030s.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is this likely to be uniform around all of the coastal areas or are there particular sections of the planet that are going to get the sea level rise impacts worse?

  • Claudia Tebaldi:

    So we know that there are areas that we see for the same amount of warming, much more sea-level rise than other areas where sea-level rise will be of lesser magnitude. And in particular, we see areas of the tropics and subtropics seeing this change much more, I would say easily than areas, for example, in the northern hemisphere, like northern Europe of the northern Pacific coast of the US.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    When you look forward in your modeling, how do you actually say if the temperature goes up this much, we're going to see more likely increased sea levels in the Caribbean?

  • Claudia Tebaldi:

    One big part of this is looking at our climate models that– that can simulate on the basis of different future scenarios of emissions, different degrees of warming and all that comes with them. And then there are effects that are a little more complicated than we base our understanding on physics, but also in these models, also on observations that in some areas of the world that long enough to show us trends and therefore we can somehow infer what's going to happen with more warming that is just more of the same of what we have done so far, unfortunately.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So you're looking at these changes happening even at one degree Celsius of temperature increase, one point five degrees. And right now, most of the scientists agree that we are not changing our behavior fast enough to try to keep it below those numbers.

  • Claudia Tebaldi:

    If we don't immediately implement large-scale, rapid decrease in our emissions of greenhouse gases, those targets, the one point five that the two-degree target are going to be impossible to– to respect.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What gives you any hope that we can make the changes necessary?

  • Claudia Tebaldi:

    I feel as if we should communicate the fact that even if these targets are useful targets to have in mind, that exceeding them for for a few decades and meanwhile, adapting to what these changes are bringing and developing technology that will help us reduce our footprint on the planet is going to to be OK. And the hope is that both these adaptations and the technology will allow us to come back to a temperature that is going to be more favorable to our way of living. It's also important to think of these as a problem with many complementary solutions. And so I think one big message of the report was every little bit counts and you can read these in a negative way. Every little bit of warming would make things worse. But also every little bit of warming that we save will help us make the problem a little less daunting to face.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Alright. Claudia Tebaldi, climate scientist with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Claudia Tebaldi:

    My pleasure. Thank you.

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