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Climate Experts Call For Collective Efforts To Address Extreme Climate And Weather Events Around The Globe

  • EDITORIAL
  • 4 min read

South African climate and international scientists have called for more investment in the appropriate skills and technology to improve seasonal forecast and early warning systems. The said technological and skills boost is essential to intensify efforts to predict, mitigate and possibly avoid extreme climate and weather events around the globe and in South Africa.

The experts were speaking at the 37th Annual Conference of the South African Society which took place at the University of the Western Cape from Monday, 30 October, to Friday, 3 November 2023. The gathering, organised by the Extreme Climate Event Research Alliance (a newly formed working group in South Africa), attracted leading climate experts who shared their research findings and provided updates on the scientific implications of climate variability, climate change, and extreme weather events in the country.

The primary objective of the meeting was to explore the integration of research outcomes into climate services, aiding in the management of climate variability and adaptation to climate change and extreme climate events.

At the meeting, delegates discussed the need for climate science to meet the needs of disaster risk management and contribute to planning and preparation at the seasonal and long-term time scales. The need for improved strategic research is aimed at better understanding the mechanisms and risks associated with extreme events, and investment in the appropriate skills and technology.

Addressing the conference, Prof. Erich Fischer, a global expert on extreme climate events and lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report, said that a collective effort is required, adding that structures and programmes must be in place to deal with the research questions associated with extreme weather events.

“This year, the frequency and intensity and variety of extreme events globally have increased significantly, and many of these, such as the recent Mexican tropical storm, the flooding in Libya, and fires in Hawaii, have been unprecedented in location and scale. We need to work together in deploying scientific capabilities to avert future environmental disasters,” he said.

Supporting Prof. Fischer’s sentiments, Dr Neville Sweijd of the Alliance for Collaboration on Climate and Earth Systems Science at the CSIR pointed out that key features of the global climate, such as average global sea-surface temperatures and average daily atmospheric temperatures, are at record levels globally by a significant margin.

“The global climate indices represent a worrying development in that we are in new territory – really a different world to what we know – and the precise implications of this are not yet apparent but will not be good for humanity. We have experienced the warmest day ever on record, and the warmest month, June,” said Sweijd.

The 2023 El Niño was a focal point in one of the panel sessions, with experts providing insights. Prof. Willem Landman from the University of Pretoria mentioned that climate forecast models are not entirely consistent, but there’s a consensus that preparations are needed for a drier and hotter summer season than usual, particularly in the Western Cape. Dr Johan Malherbe, representing the Agricultural Research Council, noted that current rainfall hasn’t significantly affected maize crops, but persistent dry conditions could disrupt production. Despite this, he mentioned an advantage due to three years of good rainfall leading into this period.

Dr Christien Engelbrecht from the South African Weather Service noted that, historically, the country has experienced drier and warmer seasons during El Niño, but this is somewhat variable and not totally consistent. “The 2015/16 El Niño was the most severe of these events on record, and on the whole, this El Niño, the 2023 event, will be strong to very strong, and it may well have a significant impact, given the background of a warmer state of the global climate.”

A fuller report from this panel is available here.