The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu was hit by a massive tropical cyclone on Friday, leaving dozens dead and even more in need of food and water to survive.
Almost immediately after the storm hit, Vanuatu’s president blamed global warming.
But was global warming to blame for the Cyclone Pam? The evidence says it’s not likely and climate scientists are hesitant to blame rising carbon dioxide levels for wreaking havoc on Vanuatu.
Cyclone Pam was not the worst storm on record in the South Pacific, but it was still devastating. The Atlantic reports the storm’s wind gusts reached 200 mph and it damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the buildings in Vanuatu’s capital.
President Baldwin Lonsdale, who was ironically at a disaster risk conference in Japan at the time, told reporters that “climate change is contributing to this.” Lonsdale’s concerns over global warming’s impact on cyclones were echoed by fellow Pacific Islanders.
“For leaders of low-lying island atolls, the hazards of global warming affect our people in different ways, and it is a catastrophe that impinges on our rights,” Anote Tong, president of the island nation of Kiribati, told reporters. “There will be a time when the waters will not recede.”
While South Pacific politicians have blamed global warming, scientists have not been so eager to global temperature rises for tropical cyclones.
Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote that while evidence points to increasing cyclone intensity where Pam formed, the “roughly thirty year period over which we have reliable reanalyses and satellite measurements [for tropical cyclones] is too short to rule out the influence of natural climate variability.”
Emanuel added, however, that while “Pam and Haiyan, as well as other recent tropical cyclone disasters, cannot be uniquely pinned on global warming, they have no doubt been influenced by natural and anthropogenic climate change and they do remind us of our continuing vulnerability to such storms.”
Unlike Emanuel, other scientists have been less willing to attribute Cyclone Pam to global warming, instead pointing out that sea level rises caused by global warming, not the cycles themselves, are causing more damage.