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2022: Reflecting on a year of extreme weather ahead of COP27

Exposed ground is seen in a dried up river bed where the normally wide Mississippi River would flow, Oct. 20, 2022, near Portageville, Mo.   -  
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Jeff Roberson/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved.

climate protection

Above-average rainfall and devastating flooding have affected 5 million people this year in 19 countries across West and Central Africa, according to a recent U.N. World Food Program situation report.

Nigeria has recorded at least 600 deaths while authorities in neighbouring Niger say at least 192 people have died there as the result of storms, either from homes collapsing or from drowning in flood waters.

More than 1.3 million people have been displaced by the disaster, which has affected people across 33 of Nigeria's 36 states, according to government figures.

At least 340,000 hectares of land also have been affected, worsening fears of food supply disruptions.

Nigeria's floods this year are the worst in more than a decade.

Dr John Marsham, the Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds says "climate change kind of turns the dial on, increases the intensity of the response and increases the droughts and increases the floods".

Kilifi County in Kenya lies within the aptly- named Arid and Semi-Arid Lands of east Africa.

According to the Red Cross, the country is experiencing the third consecutive year of drought, an estimated 3.1 million are threatened with severe food shortages.

Across the whole region of east Africa, 4.2 million people face serious food insecurity, according to the Arid and Semi-Arid Land Humanitarian Network (AHN).

At a children's clinic medical workers do what they can to stave off malnutrition, giving mothers packets of concentrated nutrition to feed their babies.

Among them is Maureen Nehemangala.

"We have been very dependent on farming. Now it's been so long since it rained, that has become a big challenge and now we don't have food. In short, we are getting food but it's not what is needed, it's not a balanced diet," she says.

The clinic's nutritionist Norman Wanyama is not optimistic:

"The reports and even the situation around is getting worse in a sense that we are looking at the numbers that we get in our facilities in terms of children who are malnourished, and this could be as a result of food insecurity occasioned by the drought situation. There is an upsurge of numbers, we are getting numbers increasing."

Pakistan has experienced both extreme heat and devastating floods this year.

In August one third of the country was underwater.

Flooding is not uncommon at this time of year - monsoon season typically starts in June and ends in September, bringing with it floods.

But the scale and severity this time is highly unusual.

These freak floods are likely to become more common as the world's climate warms.

The seasonal monsoons make Pakistan particularly vulnerable to the worst impacts of this global environmental catastrophe.

"We are certain that these are being driven by climate change. So just looking at the monsoon rains in particular, if we think of a warmer world, a warmer atmosphere, we get greater evaporation from the Indian Ocean, which fuels the the rains. And in combination then with the warmer atmosphere, the atmosphere can then hold more rain, hold more water. So we've got more water going into the atmosphere, more water being retained by the atmosphere," says Dr Helen Griffiths, a natural hazards researcher, at the University of Reading.

More than 33 million people in the country of 220 million have been affected by the floods.

Adil Sheraz, is the Country Director for the NGO Care International.

He estimates it would take between 18 months to two years to help people rebuild their lives after losing their homes and livelihoods.

"It's not only a short term crisis, we are talking really about the short to medium and long term crisis. So every step is important. Not only like an emergency relief now, we also need to widely think about our intervention for the medium term support and long term support," he says.

Earlier in the year parts of the sub-continent faced crippling heat.

Temperatures in the Pakistani city of Jacobabad remained at between 47 to 49 degrees Celsius (116 to 120 Fahrenheit) for the whole of June.

The normally bustling streets were relatively quiet as most people choose to stay out of the extreme heat.

Vendors kept busy producing sugar cane juice, as those who are outside tried their best to stay hydrated.

Jacobabad is one of Pakistan's hottest cities in Sindh province.

Its population of 300,000 people has experienced high heat in early summer for the last three years.

Later in the summer in the northern hemisphere it was Europe's turn to swelter in a record breaking heatwave that produced drought condition across much of the continent.

Heatwaves have become more common since pre-industrial times.

But even as extreme weather events increase, this year has been a shock to the system.

"So there's been other summers that have been hot, other summers that have been dry. This summer, we've had record breaking heat in the UK, across France and northern Germany, Denmark. And we're seeing record low river levels across Europe as well. This combination is quite unusual," says Dr Vikki Thompson, a climate scientist at the University of Bristol.

Warmer temperatures and drier conditions as a result of climate change have increased the number of wildfires in western United States, scientists say.

Wildfires have devastated communities in California, which, in the last five years, has seen the largest and most destructive fires in history.

Will places like this eventually be inhospitable to human life? It's possible, according to Dr Laurence Wainwright, of the University of Oxford:

"We have to ask the question whether some of these regions are going to be even habitable in 50 or 100 years, because I certainly think that from having lived in California, that I have serious doubts about the viability of California being a sustainable place to live in 75, 100 years from now," he says.

On the Atlantic coast Hurricane Ian destroyed homes in Florida in early October.

In colder climates scientists are rushing to study the environments that one day may no longer exist.

As record-breaking summer temperatures scorched Europe, parts of the Greenland ice sheet have seen their own "mini heatwave" this summer.

Scientists working at a remote Arctic research base 9,000 feet above sea level encountered temperatures close to melting point, hampering field work and disrupting airplane flights.

Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center says the Greenland ice sheet lost an estimated six billion tons of water per-day between 15-17 July, enough to fill 7.2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The melting of Greenland's huge ice sheet is one of the more visible signs of human caused global warming from the burning of fossil fuels because it's causing seas to rise, putting coastal areas at risk.

Scientists say if the entire ice sheet were to melt - which would take centuries - it could add over six metres to global sea levels.

On the coast, icebergs flow from Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the outlets for the Greenland ice sheet.

"Over the last two decades, it's a bank balance that's gone seriously into the deficit," says glaciologist Alun Hubbard.

"We've heard a lot about these things, but effectively, what it means is the ice sheet is losing mass and it's now become the largest contributor to global sea level rise."

The Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. In some seasons, it has warmed three times faster than the rest of the globe, say experts.

In March scientists ascended the Gran Sasso massif in central Italy.

They are studying what remains of the Calderone glacier with a geo-radar and an electro magnetometer to try to determine how much ice is left.

Jacopo Gabrieli, a researcher at the Institute of Polar Sciences of the CNR (Italian national council of research)says their research will help explain and understand our changing climate:

"Through these glaciers through the interest that we all have for these fantastic environments we can explain how the climate is changing, why it is changing, what impact humans are having and what we can do to reduce our impact on our planet."

The next UN COP meeting on climate change takes place from 6-18 November 2022 at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt.