Impact of climate change on weather offers a stark backdrop for COP26 climate summit.

Intense rainfall, raging wildfires and deadly heat waves. The effects of climate change are no longer an abstraction. They are happening now, and with greater frequency.

At least 85 percent of the world’s population has felt its effects, according to research published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The devastations from the past 10 months alone have stunned climate experts.

“This was a really extreme year,” said Radley Horton, a research professor focused on climate extremes at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Right now we’re seeing the climate extremes changing so fast that that alone is demonstrating that going past 1.5 Celsius will be something we won’t adapt to.”

Despite the 2015 Paris climate conference promise to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, country commitments have not come close to that goal. The United Nations says the world is on pace to experience an average temperature rise of 2.7 Celsius by the end of the century.

As leaders descend on Glasgow, Scotland, for this year’s climate conference, most of the world is already feeling the repercussions of their inaction.

From China to Germany, California to Siberia, the extreme weather events of 2021 have broken records and destroyed lives.

Precipitation

Parts of the world were inundated with deadly, record-breaking precipitation. Infrastructure buckled under torrential downpours. Hundreds of people died in the ensuing floods.

In July, Germany’s heaviest rainfall in a century left over 150 people dead.

“We have never experienced something like this,” said Franz-Josef Molé, head of the German Weather Service’s Forecast and Advisory Center. “It’s beyond comprehension.”

Scientists linked the heavy rainfall to climate change, since a warmer atmosphere retains more water.

“The air is now hotter, and it can hold more moisture, as such it will give you more rain in intense storms than before,” said Xuebin Zhang, a senior research scientist at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

In South Sudan, October flooding from torrential rain affected more than 700,000 people, according to the United Nations refugee agency. The organization described people “marooned on islands on islands surrounded by water, sheltering under trees and unable to cross to safety.” There were also fears that waterborne diseases would spread.

UNHCR stressed that the impacts of climate change are “profoundly felt in East Africa,” where communities “are facing unprecedented floods and storms, unreliable rainfall, and distress under hotter and drier conditions as their basic needs and rights to water, food, livelihoods, land, and a healthy environment are hit hard.”

China and New York City also saw extreme rainfall this year. In July, a deadly downpour fell on the city of Zhengzhou, the heaviest rains ever recorded in the country with nearly 8 inches of rain falling in one hour. More than 300 people died in the floods and landslides. Rain cascaded down on the city, turning Metro stations into to swamps and highways into rivers.

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