Two major disasters have put climate change at the centre of public debate – the 2003 European heat wave and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The first caused almost 30 000 deaths all over Europe. Almost half of these were in France. The second disaster caused over 2000 deaths and disappearances, and billions of Euros worth of damage. Other extreme meteorological phenomena occurred at the beginning of the 21st century: disastrous floods in Central Europe and India that caused dozens of deaths in 2005, major droughts in Australia linked to fires, etc
It is hard to establish a link between these events and climate change as droughts, flood and storms have always existed. However, the series of disasters in the past few years has revealed certain trends. These trends show that the weather forecast – today or tomorrow’s weather – has not changed. It is the climate – the average weather today and in years to come – that has changed. Today, researchers estimate that global warming is increasing the probability of extreme events occurring.
These different disasters also show that as well as warming up, the climate has also been disrupted. This can take on various forms depending on the place: more rain here and less there, more heat here and less elsewhere. We often talk about climate change rather than global warming to take the diversity of the phenomena into account.
In any event, there is no completely natural disaster: heat waves and hurricanes are meteorological phenomena but their consequences are even more dramatic because human societies are not well prepared for them. The dykes in New Orleans in the USA were not well maintained and there were not enough air conditioned shelters in France, for example. By anticipating future changes, we can reduce their impact.