Climate Crisis Has Made Summer Droughts 20 Times More Likely, Finds Study

china drought

The summer droughts that affected parts of the U.S., Europe, and China were made 20 times more likely by climate change, finds a new study by World Weather Attribution (WWA).

China had its driest summer in 60 years, while drought conditions in Europe sparked brush fires and dried up rivers.

The scientists with the WWA, an international organization comprised of scientists who study the connection between climate change and extreme weather, analyzed weather data, computer simulations, and soil moisture across those areas, and discovered “climate change made dry soil conditions much more likely over the last several months.”

The scientists said: If not for human-caused climate change, this type of drought would happen across the Northern Hemisphere just once every 400 years. Because the climate has warmed by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit, they anticipate these conditions will now repeat every two decades.

Many catastrophic weather events took place in the summer, including months of rain in Pakistan that flooded entire communities. These disasters are “the fingerprints of climate change,” said climate scientist Maarten van Aalst, a study co-author, and Director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center. “The impacts are very clear to people and are hitting hard, not just in poor countries, like the flooding in Pakistan, but also in some of the richest parts of the world, like western central Europe.” Van Aalst added that one way to reduce the “compounding and cascading” effects of climate change around the world is to reduce emissions.

While much of the hemisphere experienced below-average rainfall this year, the analysis found that increasing temperatures was the main driver behind the drought.

The scientists also noted their findings were conservative, and “the real influence of human activities is likely higher” than stated in the report.

Across the Northern Hemisphere this summer, extreme heat and low rainfall led to several unprecedented events: China issued its first-ever a national drought alert; the United Kingdom recorded its highest-ever temperature; Europe experienced its hottest summer; and the water crisis in the US West intensified, prompting new water usage cuts.

Alongside the immediate danger to life, the summer’s extreme heat posed severe threats to infrastructure, industry and food supply, fueling the ongoing cost of living crisis in many of the affected regions.

Europe was already battling geopolitical shocks to supply. This climate-induced shock has further “aggravated the cost of living crisis, compounding the impacts of the Ukraine war,” said Maarten van Aalst.

41% Of The Earth’s Surface Is Drylands

Another report said:

About 41% of the Earth’s land surface is currently classified as dryland, or water-limited, by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Some scientists anticipate that, with climate change, up to 56% of global land area could become water-stressed by the end of this century. More than 2 billion people live in these regions.

But drylands are distributed in swaths across northern and southern Africa, Australia, the Middle East, western and northern Asia and patches of western North and South America, while modern science has mostly unfolded in regions with wetter, more temperate climates, like western Europe and the eastern U.S.

Of those people living in dryland environments, 90% are in developing nations. Drylands contain 27% of global forests, which help sequester carbon and slow global warming. Another 14% of drylands are used to farm crops. And about half of global livestock production occurs on drylands, Throop said.

Even with increasing global desertification due to climate change on the horizon, though, research on how ecosystems will adapt is scant. That is particularly true for drylands that are about to get drier.

In July, a paper on 12 dryland mechanisms that control ecosystem functioning in a drier and warmer world was published by scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

It spelled out more than just gloom and doom for drying lands. Some of the mechanisms identified might function to buffer the effects of climate change. Hydraulic redistribution, for example, can help plants deal with drought. But it is still unknown to what extent these abilities are baked into existing plant communities in wet areas that may become drier.

The most important thing now is that scientists, planners and leaders appreciate deserts as a scientific and cultural resource and potentially a window into our climate future, even if they aren’t interested in mechanisms.

FAO said ( Drylands are home for nearly 40 percent of the world’s population. The socio-economic status of people in drylands is significantly lower than that of people in many other areas, to the extent that most of the world’s poverty is concentrated in drylands.

Water availability in drylands is around one-third below the threshold for minimum human wellbeing and sustainable development. These areas are remote, far from public services and markets and dependent on natural resources, so the people living there are vulnerable to food shortages. As the productive land continues to decrease, it will become more difficult for people in these areas to get the nutrition they need for themselves and their families.

Drylands are home to more than a third of global biodiversity hotspots and provide critical migration points for birds.

In Northern Africa’s Saharan Desert, owing to its location at the crossroads of the Atlas Mountains, the Nile River and the desert, the region has rich biodiversity with many endemic species. In Eastern Africa’s dryland areas, vegetation ranges from woodlands, where trees can reach up to 15 meters in height, to hyper-arid landscapes with few shrubs.

It may surprise you to know, but more than a quarter of the world’s forests are located in drylands. Trees are present on almost a third of the world’s dryland regions, equaling 1.1 billion hectares of forest, according to FAO’s latest Dryland Assessment. These trees and forests are hugely important for the planet. They provide habitats for biodiversity, protect land against wind erosion and desertification, provide shade for crops, animals and people, help water penetrate soils and contribute to soil fertility.

The rest of drylands aren’t just desert either: 25 percent of global drylands are grassland and 14 percent is cropland.

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