CLEVELAND — Hundreds of the world's leading scientists offered the most stern warning yet on the topic of climate change, saying the newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should be "code red for humanity."
A product of hundreds of scientists that references more than 14,000 studies and data sources, the report warns of more extreme weather events in the future, including extreme heat waves and flash flooding, which are of particular concern to Northeast Ohio.
The massive report concludes that humans are "unequivocally" to blame for the warming average global temperature, which is likely to cross the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit threshold within the next two decades. The report pins the blame on fossil fuels and the greenhouse gasses that are generated. Although the report states many effects of climate change are already guaranteed, immediate action increases the likelihood of those changes being slowed down or avoided.
Specifically relating to Northeast Ohio, researchers said some of the most profound impacts of climate change will be noticed in the intensity of large rain events and a more pronounced 'heat island' effect, said Scott Hardy, an extension educator at the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.
"We will see more extreme weather events along the coast; these one percent biggest coastal storms that bring flooding, erosion, combined sewer overflows," Hardy said. "Not only will we see more of these extreme precipitation events but they will also be more intense. Not only will we see more water falling more often, but those flood events will be more intense."
These more frequent and more intense rain events will place an even greater strain on the region's stormwater infrastructure. This places an even greater emphasis on the need for more green infrastructure like permeable surfaces, rain gardens, wetland and floodplain preservation, bioswales and retention basins. These hyper-local changes buttressed with large scale projects being undertaken by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District are sorely needed, Hardy said.
"It's a policy approach with the model codes and the ordinances. It's a stormwater management approach from the combination of gray and green infrastructure," Hardy said. "I believe a big part of it is education and making sure that folks that do live in flood plains and live along the coast understand that the climate is changing and how it's impacting our natural resources. That three-tiered approach can be effective over the long term."
Extreme heat and warmer temperatures overall will also have an impact, especially on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, Hardy said. Those populations would feel the brunt of a more pronounced "heat island" effect and drops in air quality.
"I think climate change should be taken extremely seriously for several reasons. Certainly the most vulnerable populations in our community will feel the effects the worst," Hardy said. "Those folks that can't afford air conditioning or have to walk instead of having their own cars, these are individuals that are going to be more impacted by extreme heat events."
In the most recent annual climate trends and impacts summary for the Great Lakes basin, officials noted 2020 brought very high temperatures in the summer and fall and extreme rainfall events that led to flooding in the winter and spring. The report also found that Lake Erie reached a new record-high monthly mean water level multiple times.
However, the generally warmer weather in the winter months led to lower levels of ice coverage, resulting in the fourth lowest max ice coverage level on record. The lack of ice on Lake Erie accelerated coastal flooding and erosion.
"Without all of that investment and management actions to try to address some of these growing environmental issues, we'd have far reaching ramifications and from a community development perspective," Hardy said.