2024: A Year of Devastating Climate Impacts Across the Globe

In 2024, the world has witnessed an alarming increase in extreme weather events, from devastating floods and heatwaves to severe droughts, underscoring the urgent need to address climate change

by Sededin Dedovic
2024: A Year of Devastating Climate Impacts Across the Globe
© Gerardo Mora / Getty Images

Floods and heatwaves across Africa, floods in southern Brazil, drought in the Amazon, and extreme heat throughout Asia, including India: this year's news has been filled with alarming stories about weather disasters, and with good reason.

So far, 2024 has been particularly bad in terms of extreme weather conditions, with droughts, extreme heat, and floods causing serious damage to health and livelihoods, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

"Almost every region in the world has faced extreme weather and climate events of different kinds," said Alvaro Silva, a WMO climate expert, to DW. While each individual extreme weather event cannot be directly attributed to climate change, they are becoming more likely and more intense due to greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas.

Last year, the northern hemisphere recorded its hottest summer in the past 2,000 years, and globally, 2024 is on track to be even hotter.

What is the link between climate change and weather?

Climate change increases evaporation and causes more water vapor in the atmosphere.

This leads to more intense rainfall and floods in some areas, and more extreme droughts in others. Warmer ocean temperatures intensify climate patterns, while higher overall temperatures lead to more frequent heatwaves. This has devastating consequences for global weather patterns, resulting in various effects across the planet.

Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced, reportedly the largest case of climate migration in Brazil.
"Nepot just the frequency and intensity of these events that we usually hear about, but also changes in the timing and duration of these extremes," said Silva.

"We no longer know what is normal in the climate because we see an increasing trend of extreme events," he said.

Participants in the Fridays For Future movement protest during a nationwide climate change action day in on September 20, 2019 i© Thomas Lohnes / Getty Images

Which extreme weather conditions are caused by climate change, and which are not?

The impact of climate change is evident when observing long-term weather trends, but determining its role in specific weather events has only recently become possible.

DW analyzed three major weather events this year to see if climate change was a decisive factor.

Is there a link between climate change and the heat in India?

In April and May, India, along with many parts of Asia, was hit by extreme heat.

In parts of India, temperatures reached 47 degrees Celsius, leading to deaths and increased poverty. The extreme heat even impacted voter turnout in the Indian elections. Several politicians, election officials, and campaign managers reportedly fell ill due to the heat, including the federal roads minister who collapsed on stage.

The heatwave was 45 times more likely due to climate change and was 0.85 degrees Celsius hotter than it would otherwise have been, according to the World Weather Attribution (WWA). WWA is an initiative of scientists who investigate whether and to what extent climate change caused by human activities played a role in recent extreme weather events.

The damage caused by extreme weather conditions depends on the vulnerability of the population. Even a seemingly small increase of 0.85 degrees Celsius can cause significant damage. "In countries like India and other parts of South Asia where many people work outdoors, they are much more exposed and vulnerable even to relatively small changes in extreme heat," said Otto.

Did climate change play a role in the floods in Brazil?

More than 100 people died in devastating floods in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, with damages amounting to billions of dollars. Nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced, reportedly the largest case of climate migration in the country.

The state government is even considering relocating entire towns to avoid future disasters. Some scientists have already pointed to the effects of climate change, such as persistent warming caused by El Niño, to explain the floods.

Vulnerability also plays a significant role in flood damage, and some engineers point to insufficient preparedness and infrastructure problems. A study published by the French group Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement concluded that the heavy rains that led to the floods can largely be attributed to human-caused climate change.

WWA is currently working on its own study, but Otto says previous floods in the country were clearly linked to climate change.

Did climate change worsen the recent tornadoes in the USA?

The United States faced a significant number of tornadoes this year.

Over four days, more than 100 tornadoes hit the Midwest and Great Plains, "causing significant damage and loss of life," officials reported. The National Weather Service in Omaha, Nebraska, recorded a record by issuing 48 tornado warnings in one day.

But the causes of tornadoes are incredibly difficult to determine due to their small scale. Climate change attribution studies work best on large-scale events like extreme heat, extreme cold, and droughts. With the exception of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic, climate change has not been linked to an increase in wind speeds, particularly over land, said Otto.

"Given that we don't see changes in other types of wind speeds or other types of storms, I wouldn't expect a big change, but it could be quite different for tornadoes because they are a different phenomenon," said Otto. In essence, scientists cannot say what role climate change played or whether it played any role at all.