WMO report: Asia most affected by climate change and extreme weather

United Nations

Following closely behind the recent WMO study on climate change in Europe, the State of the Climate in Asia 2023 report highlights the rapid rate of climate change in the region. This is evident in various indicators such as surface temperature, glacier retreat, and sea level rise, among others.

The report’s findings are concerning, as many countries in Asia experienced record-breaking temperatures and a range of extreme conditions in 2023, including droughts, heatwaves, floods, and storms. According to WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo, these events have had a profound impact on societies, economies, and human lives.

The warming trend in Asia has almost doubled since the period from 1960-1990, which is significantly higher than the global average. This has resulted in increased casualties and economic losses from natural disasters such as floods, storms, and heatwaves.

In 2023, sea-surface temperatures in the northwest Pacific Ocean reached a record high, with even the Arctic Ocean experiencing a marine heatwave. The report also identifies the Barents Sea as a “climate change hotspot,” with the sea surface warming more than three times faster than the global average in many areas of the region.

Sea level rise, driven by thermal expansion and the melting of glaciers, ice caps, and ice sheets, continues to be a global issue. In Asia, the rate of sea level rise has been higher than the global average since 1993.

In 2023, Asia experienced 79 water hazard-related disasters, with over 80% of them linked to floods and storms. These events resulted in over 2,000 fatalities and directly affected nine million people, according to the Emergency Events Database.

The continent also saw extreme heat in 2023, with the annual mean near-surface temperature ranking as the second highest on record. Particularly high temperatures were observed in western Siberia, central Asia, eastern China, and Japan, with both Japan and Kazakhstan experiencing their warmest year on record.

While precipitation levels were below normal in some parts of Asia, there were also extreme events such as heavy rainfall in Myanmar, floods and storms in India, Pakistan, and Nepal, and record-breaking hourly rainfall in Hong Kong.

The High-Mountain Asia region, which includes the Tibetan Plateau and has the largest volume of ice outside of the polar regions, has seen a significant retreat of glaciers in the last few decades due to high temperatures and dry conditions. Permafrost, which is soil that remains below 0 °C for two or more years, is also thawing at a rapid rate in the Arctic regions of Asia.

In addition to these events, severe dust storms, lightning, extreme cold, and thick smog have also affected millions of people in Asia. From 1970 to 2021, there have been 3,612 disasters in the region attributed to weather, climate, and water extremes, resulting in 984,263 deaths and $1.4 trillion in economic losses. Tropical cyclones were the leading cause of these deaths.

To mitigate the impacts of these events, WMO and its partners advocate for a strong early warning and disaster risk reduction system. According to Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, early warning systems and preparedness have already saved thousands of lives. ESCAP and WMO will continue to work together to raise climate ambition and implement sound policies to ensure that no one is left behind in the face of the ongoing climate change crisis.

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