With COP26 just around the corner, we thought it was a good time to look at some of the climate-related issues from 2021 that you may have missed. We all heard about the extreme temperatures caused by Canada’s Pacific heat dome effect and the devastating flash-flooding in Germany. We all saw the damage left by Storm Christoff in the UK and then later, Hurricane Ida in New Orleans, but what about other climate change-related extreme weather patterns?
In July, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report confirming that rising global temperatures were ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activity.
The report signed by 245 international experts and 195 governments emphasised the importance of keeping global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees. The report is likely to be at the centre of many of COP22’s most meaningful discussions, notably its warning about the growing impact of extreme weather and its threat to life worldwide.
It’s Raining in Greenland
In August 2021, the temperature on the summit of Greenland’s icecap dropped below freezing. According to CNN, ‘the warmer air then ‘fuelled an extreme weather event that dumped 7 billion tons of water on the ice sheet’.
Temperatures were 18 degrees higher than average, resulting in warm air pushing up and settling over the area. It’s the third time in the last decade that temperatures on the summit have risen above freezing, but it’s the first time on record that this has led to rainfall. Ice loss is a massive concern for climate scientists, and shortly before the unprecedented rain on the icecap, Greenland had already been experiencing huge ice losses. Website Live Science reports that 8.5 billion metric tons of ice were lost over three days, twice the normal summer average.
Speaking to the Sierra Club website about the recent rainfall, John Walsh, a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a scientist with the International Arctic Research Centre, said: “This has never happened before. Something is going on in the atmosphere that’s taking us into uncharted territory.” The Sierra Club article is particularly sobering; it explains that Greenland’s climate events will affect the global climate and that what happens around its coastline plays a ‘pivotal role’ in ocean currents which, in turn, has an impact far beyond Greenland.
Food Shortages in Madagascar
Madagascar is currently experiencing its worst drought in 40-years, and the impact on food shortages has been devastating. According to the website Mongabay, 1 million people in Madagascar are now ‘food insecure’ and don’t have access to sufficient nutritious food. Several news outlets have reported that people are eating nettles and insects to survive. Unfortunately, 2020 also saw very little rainfall in the region. Access to clean drinking water in many areas is now minimal, so water-borne diseases have risen.
Additionally, with less water available for crops, farming and food production has also been impacted. “These are famine-like conditions, and they’re being driven by climate not conflict,” said the UN World Food Programme’s Shelley Thakral. According to a BBC report, Madagascar’s frequent droughts are due to increased aridity. Defined as a state of ‘being extremely dry’, aridity is often driven by rising global temperatures. Drought and famine could become more likely in other areas around the world. What’s worse for Madagascar is that it produces relatively few greenhouse gases yet bears the brunt of rising global emissions.
Brazil’s Coffee Bean Shortage
Over the summer, Brazil experienced its worst drought in more than a century leading to a drop in the production of Arabica coffee beans. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter, so the poor harvest has also meant a decline in coffee stock prices.
The drought has exacerbated what was always going to be a smaller harvest. Coffee follows a two-year growing cycle where one bumper harvest is then followed by a much smaller one. Based on how well 2020 was for coffee growers, the 2021 harvest was always going to be smaller, but the country’s extreme weather has worsened things.
And it wasn’t only drought that affected this year’s crop. In late July 2021, snow and frost hit Southern Brazil. News website, The World reports that some of the region’s growers have lost 80% of their crop to the weather. The article also says that coffee prices have risen by 50% compared to earlier this year. Whilst it’s unlikely consumers will notice the price increase right now (most coffee suppliers buy their beans well in advance), price rises are likely further down the line.
Forest Fires in Siberia
Siberia may be one of the coldest regions on earth, but it was burning over the summer of 2021. Heatwaves led to forest fires covering some 80,000 hectares of forest, turning the air quality in the affected areas into a severe health hazard. The Guardian referred to the event as ‘airpocalypse’ and wrote that “High levels of particulate matter and possibly also chemicals including ozone, benzene and hydrogen cyanide are thought likely to make this one of the world’s worst-ever air pollution events.” Three hundred and twenty thousand residents were told to stay indoors, whilst the Moscow Times reported that the wildfires had set a new record for c02 levels in the Arctic Circle.
Increases in average temperatures have fueled the wildfires. The Siberian city of Verkhoyansk, known as being one of the coldest inhabited cities on earth, recorded temperatures of over 30 degrees. One article published in the journal Climate Change concluded that these Siberian heatwaves would have been ‘almost impossible without human-induced climate change’ mirroring the admission of guilt found in the UN’s IPCC report.
Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the global average, and temperatures are rising across the country. In June 2021, Moscow experienced its hottest day in 120 years, and these kinds of record-breaking temperatures are likely to be more common in the future. The UN IPCC report also warned that wildfires were more likely to become more frequent and burn for longer. In Siberia, much of the region is covered by permafrost – ground that’s permanently covered by ice. Permafrost captures carbon and holds it, but if global temperatures continue to rise and the permafrost begins melting, carbon will be released into the air, further accelerating environmental damage.
Taiwan’s Tea Growing Problems
Similarly to Brazil, climate change is affecting tea growers in Taiwan. Heavy rainfall has followed 2020’s rare but devastating drought, meaning that around half of this year’s harvest was lost. Website DW reports that the implications aren’t just for plantation owners, producers and consumers; Tea pickers earn less when there’s a bad crop. The wet weather has also encouraged pests. Euronews writes that as summers become more prolonged and with less moisture in the air, it’s easier for pests to survive and thrive in areas they usually wouldn’t have. This puts the remaining crops at risk.
Of course, not everyone believes that Taiwan’s tea problems are climate-change related. Some say it’s too early to suggest that this is anything but regular fluctuations in weather patterns. Still, it certainly fits into the global trend of unpredictable and extreme weather.
Chen Yung-ming is the head of the climate change division at the Taiwan National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction. He told several news outlets that it wasn’t possible to say that climate change was responsible but that ‘we can only say that the risk of continued drought will increase.’
Of course, there was some good environmental news in 2021, and we'll be covering that in our next post which you'll find by clicking here.