The unprecedented power of Cyclone Pam, which left at least 6 dead and tore a swath of destruction across the Pacific island of Vanuatu, has focused attention on the role climate change plays in strengthening tropical storms.
Vanuatu’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, speaking to reporters at the United Nations world conference in Sendai, Japan, on Monday, said climate change is contributing to more extreme weather conditions and cyclone seasons.
“This is a very devastating cyclone … I term it a monster that has hit Vanuatu,” he said. “It is a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu … All the development that has taken place has been wiped out.”
Emphasising the inextricable connection between climate change impacts and sustainable development, the president added that the damage will be a major setback for the country, wiping out nearly its entire housing stock.
The president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, also at the conference, urged action on climate change.
“It is time to act … Let us match the rhetoric of these international gatherings with pledges and commitments as leaders to do our best to improve conditions and lives of those who need it most,” he told reporters in Sendai. “For leaders of low-lying island atolls, the hazards of global warming affect our people in different ways, and it is a catastrophe that impinges on our rights … and our survival into the future.”
A rash of record storms in the past few years alone, including Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines just as negotiators met for UN climate talks in 2012, have led some to point their fingers at climate change as the culprit.
Scientists say it is impossible to tie any one storm to climate change, they largely agree that it appears that storms will become more powerful as ocean surface temperatures continue to warm. A 2010 study, for example, forecast that the average intensity of hurricanes and typhoons would increase by up to 11 percent by the end of the century.
At the same time, the Pacific region has been one of the areas most affected by changes in global temperatures in recent years. In 2013, countries in the Pacific Basin recorded the highest increases in sea levels in the world, according to a report by The Christian Science Monitor, based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Aid workers on the ground in Vanuatu reported significant damage with The Australian Red Cross saying on Twitter that “humanitarian needs will be enormous. Many people have lost their homes. Shelter, food and water (are) urgent priorities” in the capital of Port Vila.
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