Tuesday, January 18

Floods in Europe: warning for all | Opinion

Aerial view of the damage to a bridge in the German town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.
Aerial view of the damage to a bridge in the German town of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler.FRIEDEMANN VOGEL / EFE

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The catastrophic floods that have devastated western Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, in which more than 100 deaths have already been registered and hundreds are still missing, are yet another demonstration of the kind of challenges that climate change confronts us with. . Although it is difficult to establish a direct link between a specific episode and the general alteration of the climate because there is always a margin of natural variability, there is evidence that in general terms global warming favors extreme manifestations of the climate. Scientists expect an increase in exceptionally adverse events, but the intensity and frequency of the latter seems to indicate a worsening of the effects of climate change in relation to the forecasts considered so far.

What has surprised the floods in the Rhine basin is both the intensity and the extent of the phenomenon, with a pattern of torrential rain more typical of other latitudes, with rainfall of 148 liters per square meter in 48 hours and, in some points, up to 154 liters in 24 hours, when the normal thing in the region is to reach 80 liters in the whole month of July. Rainfall records have been broken in a very large area, on a land already filled with previous rains, and this has caused accumulations capable of dragging houses and destroying roads, which has caught the population completely unprepared.

The German meteorological service issued a warning earlier in the week about the possibility of “extreme floods” and now, in view of the damage caused, it is disputed whether the local authorities were negligent in not evacuating the population. In any case, what has happened shows that not even developed societies with excellent infrastructure and civil protection services are spared the devastating effects of these extreme demonstrations. We had seen the vulnerability of poor countries to climate changes, but the heat wave in Canada, the wave of fires in California due to the drought or these very serious floods in the European Union reveal that no one is safe from its consequences . Its effects have struck the very heart of the most developed Europe, with a tragic balance.

The effects of climate change are not limited to making dry places more arid or causing more hurricanes where they usually occur. Climate is a complex system of interactions across the planet and altering weather patterns can affect any place. What is alarming now is the acceleration that this process seems to experience. From what happened, it is clear that we must move faster towards the total decarbonisation of the economy to reduce emissions significantly and thus slow down a process that is growing. Europe has taken very important and significant steps to change the model based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the origin of the problem. But it’s not enough. Decarbonization must be global. Meanwhile, it is necessary to prepare for the immediate effects with more demanding, flexible and agile contingency plans, capable of acting effectively in the face of more extreme events than expected. The floods in Germany and Belgium are a warning for everyone.


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