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Asia hit hardest by climate change, extreme weather

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Asia remained the world’s most disaster-affected region in 2023 due to weather, climate and water-related hazards. Storms and floods have hit the hardest, a new report published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) last week revealed.

Following close on the heels of the study of climate change in Europe, published by WMO on May 22, the State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlighted the accelerating rate of climate change across several indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat, sea level rise and more.

“The report’s conclusions are sobering. Many countries in the region experienced their hottest year on record in 2023, along with a barrage of extreme conditions, from droughts and heatwaves to floods and storms,” said WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo,

Climate change has exacerbated the frequency and severity of such events that profoundly impact societies, economies, and most importantly, human lives, she said.

With the warming trend almost doubling since the period from 1960–1990, Asia is heating up faster than the global average, with increased casualties and economic losses from floods, storms and more severe heatwaves.

In 2023, sea-surface temperatures in the northwest Pacific Ocean were the highest on record. Even the Arctic Ocean suffered a marine heatwave. In many areas of the region, including the Arabian Sea, the southern Kara Sea and the southeastern Laptev Sea, the sea surface is warming more than three times faster than globally. The Barents Sea was identified by the report as a “climate change hotspot.”

Driven by thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets, sea level continued to rise globally. However, in Asia, rates were higher than the global mean over 1993–2023.

Last year, the continent saw 79 water hazard-related disasters, with over 80 percent linked to floods and storms, resulting in over 2,000 fatalities and affecting nine million people directly, according to the Emergency Events Database. 

Many parts of the region experienced extreme heat in 2023. Asia’s annual mean near-surface temperature ranked as the second highest on record with 0.91 °C above the 1991–2020 average. Particularly high temperatures were observed from western Siberia to central Asia, and from eastern China to Japan. Japan and Kazakhstan experienced a record warm year.

Meanwhile, the level of precipitation was below normal in large parts of the Turan Lowland (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan), the Hindu Kush (Afghanistan, Pakistan) and the Himalayas, as well as around the Ganges and lower course of the Brahmaputra Rivers (India and Bangladesh).

The Arakan Mountains in Myanmar and the lower course of the Mekong River areas have also seen less rainfall than usual, while Southwest China suffered from a drought, with below-normal precipitation levels nearly every month of 2023.

Despite overall lower precipitation, several extreme events occurred, such as heavy rainfall in Myanmar in May; floods and storms across India, Pakistan and Nepal in June and July, and record hourly rainfall in Hong Kong in September, to name a few.

Home to the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions, the High-Mountain Asia region with the Tibetan Plateau at its center, has approximately 100,000 square kilometres of glaciers. Over the last several decades, most of those have been retreating, and at an accelerating rate. Twenty out of 22 observed glaciers continued losing mass, yielding to record-breaking high temperatures and dry conditions.

Permafrost—soil that continuously remains below 0 °C for two or more years—is also surrendering territories to the increasing air temperatures in the Arctic. The most rapid thawing of permafrost in Asia is observed in the Polar Urals and the western regions of Western Siberia.

Severe dust storms, lightning and thunders, waves of extreme cold and thick smog were also among extreme events that affected lives of millions across Asia.


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