Floods wreaked havoc in Germany and Belgium last month

Scientists say that changing climate conditions are the driving force behind heavy rain and deadly flooding in Europe. 

According to an international study published on Tuesday, events such as the devastating floods in Germany and Belgium last month are nine times more likely to occur due to climate change. 

The study organized by World Weather Attribution said that downpours in the Western European region are 3-19% more intense because of human-induced warming.

By analyzing local rainfall patterns across Western Europe, researchers were able to estimate the likelihood of an event similar to last month’s floods occurring again.

They found that similar events could be expected to hit any given area about once in 400 years at current warming levels.

This means several events on the scale of the German and Belgian floods are likely across Western Europe within that time frame, they said.

“It was a very rare event,” said Maarten van Aalst, the International Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre director.

“On the other hand it has already become more likely than before and it will become more likely in the future.”

Using the growing specialty of attribution science, climate experts are increasingly able to link manmade climate change to specific extreme weather events.

To calculate the role of climate change on the rainfall that led to the floods, scientists analyzed weather records and computer simulations to compare the climate today—which is around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer due to manmade emissions—with the climate of the past.

They calculated that the floods were between 1.2 and nine times more likely to happen in today’s warmed climate than a scenario where no heating had occurred since the pre-industrial era.

Such downpours over Germany and Belgium are now between 3-19 percent heavier because of human-induced warming, according to the study, 

“Climate change increased the likelihood (of the floods), but climate change also increased the intensity,” said Frank Kreienkamp, from the German weather service.

Friederike Otto, associate director of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, said that the floods showed that “even developed countries are not safe from severe impacts of extreme weather that we have 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.”

Van Aalst said the study should be a “wake-up call for people”.

At least 190 people lost their lives in severe floods that pummelled western Germany in mid-July, and at least 38 people perished after extreme rainfall in Belgium’s southern Wallonia region.


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