Heat waves and extreme drought will increase with climate change, UN agency says

19 February 2009 – The severe drought and searing heat that recently allowed wildfires to char much of Australia will oppress wide swathes of the earth with increasing frequency this century, according to a forecast by scientists who met this week in Beijing, China, the United Nations weather agency said today.

“The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to ten years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change,” according to a statement endorsed by the scientists at the meeting co-sponsored by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The continental United States and Mexico, the Mediterranean basin, parts of northern China, southern Africa and Australia and parts of South America were cited as particularly prone to harsh drought, WMO said in a press release relaying the results of the International Workshop on Drought and Extreme Temperatures

In addition, severe heat waves are expected to increase everywhere, especially in the continental western US, northern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia, southern Africa and Australia, the agency added.

More than 40 scientists from climate and agricultural research institutes, universities and environmental monitoring organizations participated in the conference, which ran from 16 to 17 February and was co-sponsored by the China Meteorological Administration (CMA).

The increase in Australian droughts and heat waves could be a temporary climate event lasting 10 to 30 years, according to several presentations at the conference that noted that these events have occurred in the historical climate record elsewhere in the world.

However, they added, the Australian events are also consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which says that the world has been more drought-prone during the past 25 years.

Several participants detailed examples of droughts and heat waves, such as those in Europe in 2003, in south-east Australia in 2009, and currently in northern and central China, which are the worst drought in half a century

To help agriculture, rangelands and forestry cope with the phenomenon, they recommended the development of a standardized drought index that can be practically applied to a wide range of agricultural purposes across the world.

Other recommendations included more proactive drought planning, efficient water use and wider introduction of new drought-tolerant crop varieties.

WMO said it has been developing monitoring and prediction tools, with CMA and other partners, to increase awareness of extreme climatic hazard in the agriculture and forestry communities.

It added that World Climate Conference-3, which is being held from 31 August to 4 September 2009 in Geneva, Switzerland, will address these issues through several presentations on the connections between climate variability and change and agriculture, the agency said.


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