In recent years, we’ve been witnessing more and more atmospheric extreme events taking place on the planet. In 2020, we had the most intense hurricane season in history, while this year heat waves in Canada and Scandinavia brought temperatures to what you’d expect to see in the tropics. This isn’t coincidental — this continuous increase in extreme weather/climate is expected as a consequence of climate change — and it’s about to happen even more.
In a study published in Science, researchers analyzed six types of extreme events and estimated how much different generations will be exposed to each type of event in their expected lifetimes. They compared two groups, people born in 1960 and those who were born last year, and found stark differences.
Let’s take heatwaves, for starters. People who were born in 1960 will probably see about 5 heatwaves in a lifetime, according to climate models. Meanwhile, children born in 2020, will likely experience 30 heatwaves in their lives.
The other events are wildfires, crop failures, river floods, and tropical cyclones, and kids born recently will face way more of each than previous generations. If we’ll experience a 3°C temperature increase above preindustrial levels, 7-year-old will probably witness the double of wildfires and tropical cyclones experienced by people above 55. They would also experience three times more river floods, four times more crop failures, and five times more droughts.
The researchers also found that while the entire world will face more extreme events, some areas will be more exposed than others. If the world’s countries keep their emissions pledges, 205 million children born in sub-Saharan Africa will be exposed to 6 times more extreme events, while 64 million from Europe or Central Asia will experience 4 times more extreme events.
Migrations due to climate impacts are already a global concern as well, something the team still needs to consider in their predictions. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of climate refugees has risen to 21.5 million since 2010 and will surge in the following decades.
These numbers and other results from recent studies paint a clear picture: we must make an effort to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5°C scenario, otherwise many people will suffer from climate disasters in the future.