Climate change has made extreme floods similar to those last month in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, between 1.2 and nine times more likely to happen, according to a new rapid attribution study by an international team of climate scientists on Tuesday.
The study also found that such downpours in the region are now 3-19% heavier because of human-induced warming, the study by World Weather Attribution (WWA) said.
The results reinforce the conclusions of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said there is now unequivocal evidence that humans are warming the planet’s climate, as human-induced climate change is the main driver of changes in weather extremes.
The IPCC said in the report that as temperatures rise, Western and Central Europe will be exposed to increasing extreme rainfall and flooding.
According to the WWA's attribution study, extreme rainfall hit parts of Western Europe from July 12-15, killing at least 220 people in Belgium and Germany.
The scientists analyzed weather records and computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today, after about 1.2°C of global warming since the late 1800s, with the climate of the past to calculate the role of climate change on the intense rainfall that caused the floods.
The study focused on the extreme rainfall that triggered floods in two areas that were particularly affected: the Ahr and Erft region of Germany and the Belgian Meuse region, which saw intense rainfall.
'While the scientists found a trend of increasing heavy rainfall in these small regions, there was also a large amount of variability from year to year in these very local rainfall patterns,' the study said.
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To evaluate the influence of climate change, the scientists looked at data from a wider region and analyzed how likely it is that similar extreme rainfall could occur anywhere across a larger area of Western Europe, including eastern France, western Germany, eastern Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and northern Switzerland, and how this has been affected by increasing global temperatures.
'Similar events can be expected to hit any particular area of Western Europe about once in 400 years in the current climate, meaning several such events are likely across the wider region over that timeframe. With further greenhouse gas emissions and continued temperature increases such heavy rainfall will become more common,' the study warned.
The study, conducted by 39 researchers, is part of the World Weather Attribution group, including scientists from universities and meteorological and hydrological agencies in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the US and the UK.
'Our state of the art climate models indicate increases in slow moving extreme rainfall events in a future warmer world. This event starkly shows how societies are not resilient to current weather extremes,' Hayley Fowler, professor of climate change impacts at Newcastle University said.
He advised a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, as well as improving emergency warning and management systems. He also advocated for making infrastructure ‘climate resilient’ to reduce casualties and costs to be more able to withstand these extreme flooding events.
Friederike Otto, associate director at Environment Change Institute at the University of Oxford noted that these floods have shown that even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that the world has seen and known to get worse with climate change.
'This is an urgent global challenge and we need to step up to it. The science is clear and has been for years,' he warned.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya