Climate-charged storm Xaver flooding northern Europe

Much of northern Europe – including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Sweden – is getting battered by winter storm Xaver, right now. The storm is expected to cause over $1 billion in damages and has already resulted in a number of casualties. It’s already being called one of the most dangerous storms to hit Europe in the last 60 years.

How are storms like Xaver connected to climate change? There’s no way to connect an individual weather event like Xaver directly to global warming, but the storm is a powerful reminder of why we need to take immediate action to address the climate crisis.

Much of the threat comes from storm-surge flooding. Global warming has already raised global sea level about 20 cm since 1880, and the rate of rise is accelerating. Rising seas dramatically increase the odds of damaging floods from storm surges. Scientists expect roughly 60 to 210 more cm of sea level rise this century, depending on whether or not we can limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Xaver is showing us the damage that a storm surge with 20 cm sea level rise can cause. It’s hard to imagine the damage with 60 to 210 cm of sea level rise – and how we would be able to adapt to it. Xaver has forced the UK and Netherlands to deploy their full storm-surge protection barriers, while in Hamburg, on St. Nicholas day, both schools and Christmas markets have been canceled due to record-level storm surge the likes of which “we have rarely seen in the last 10 or 20 years”, said a city official on Friday. If these barriers are struggling to handle a storm surge with 20 cm of sea-level rise, how will they hold up against the storms of the future?

A 2013 study in Nature concluded that flooding could cost the world’s cities $60 billion a year, even with major investments in flood protection. If we don’t make those investments, the cost could be up to $1 trillion a year. Who is going to pay for all those investments? You guessed it: you and me.

Meanwhile, the biggest fossil fuel companies in Europe are trying to make the case that it’s support for renewable energy, not their own profiteering and price manipulation, that is driving up energy prices across Europe. These companies aren’t just causing the problem, they’re actively blocking the solutions we need. As Europe works to strengthen its 2030 carbon reduction goals, it will be more important than ever to challenge the stronghold these companies have over our economy and political process. Right now, the Magritte Group, a coalition of the CEOs of Europe’s largest energy companies, are actively campaigning to gut Europe’s climate regulations. Xaver should be a powerful reminder of why it’s renewable energy, not fossil fuel companies, that deserve government support.

Storms like Xaver are another reminder of why we must begin to divest from disaster. It’s time to stop funding the companies that are driving sea level rise and the other problems associated with climate change, and start investing in the businesses, people, and programs that can help address the crisis.

 

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