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40 percent more people could be exposed to cyclones by 2050

A new study offers both caution and hope for populations at risk of cyclones. In the face of global warming, extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency. Coastal populations in particular face the danger of tropical cyclones, which over the past fifty years have killed 779,324 people and caused over $400 billion in damages according to the World Meteorological Association

The new study essentially models the impact of cyclones over the next eighty years, taking into account various warming scenarios.  

“Basically, our computer model can calculate the impact of any given warming scenario, on a global and country scale, and its implications for the number of people at risk by tropical cyclones,” said study co-author Johannes Gütschow.

“Our findings most likely also hold true for a variety of other climate extremes whose occurrence only deepends on absolute warming and not on the timing.”

If global mean temperatures rise two degrees Celsius by 2050, the risk of cyclone events occurring to tropical coastal populations will increase dramatically. 

“If we add population growth to two degree Celsius global warming, in 2050 we could even see an increase of 40 percent more people exposed to cyclones,” said study lead author Tobias Geiger.

“As the global population is projected to peak around mid-century, more people will face more intense cyclones, due to climate change – putting that higher population at greater risk.” 

However, under scenarios of climate mitigation and reduction of global carbon dioxide emissions, the forecast becomes more optimistic. If we can delay two degrees of warming to 2100, then populations already at risk may have better chances. 

“If we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach two degree Celsius of global warming only in 2100, this would limit the increase of people in danger of cyclones to 20 percent. This finding is key as it shows that reducing global warming potentially postpones severe tropical cyclone impacts to the late second half of the century, when there would be far fewer people at risk,” said Geiger.

“Emission reductions that would limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius could cumulatively protect over 1.8 billion people from exposure to tropical cyclones until the end of this century compared to the warming under currently proposed emission reductions,” said Katja Frieler. “It is thus high time to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep as many people safe as possible.” 

The study is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

By Alex Ruger, Staff Writer

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