What we need to learn from the recent heavy rains
By Jang Daul
Record rainfall flooded homes, subway stations and roads and submerged more than 10,000 cars in Korea, including its capital, Seoul, from Aug. 8-9.
A new hourly rainfall record of 141.5 millimeters was set in Seoul after 80 years. Additionally, daily rainfall in Dongjak-gu, Seoul, recorded 381.5 millimeters, far exceeding the highest daily rainfall of 354.7 millimeters recorded in 1920.
Extreme rainfall is becoming more common around the world due to human-induced climate change. This is because water molecules move faster when the temperature is warmer and therefore a warmer atmosphere contains more moisture. This mainly explains why climate change is causing more extreme rainfall.
The latest Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2021 indicates that what would once have been a 10-year rainfall event is now occurring 1.3 times more each decade and is 6.7% wetter. A global warming of 2 degrees Celsius will result in 1.7 times more frequent heavy rains every 10 years and will be 14% wetter.
Yoo Hee-dong, head of the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), said in a media interview that the recent heavy rainfall in Korea cannot be explained without the impact of climate change.
In 2021, the KMA released a report titled “A Climate Change Analysis Report on the Republic of Korea for 109 Years (1912~2020 Years)”. The report indicates that the average annual temperature for the past 30 years (1991-2020) has increased by 1.6 degrees Celsius compared to 1912 to 1940.
The report also analyzed that the number of days of precipitation has decreased, while the intensity of precipitation has increased. The KMA warned in the report that there have been notable increases in the frequency of extreme weather events and that accelerating global warming will further increase the frequency and cause more damage.
Therefore, it is very likely that if we do not address ongoing global climate change, we will suffer the consequences of more frequent and severe extreme weather events. In other words, we, as a global community, must build a new socio-economic system that is not dependent on the burning of fossil fuels – primarily coal, oil and gas.
More importantly, we need to think about ways to increase climate justice using the painful experience of the last heavy rains as a lesson.
No one on this planet can be immune to the impact of global warming. At the same time, however, global climate change will not affect everyone equally.
Socially and economically disadvantaged people, including the poor, the elderly, children, people with disabilities, rural populations, farmers and outdoor workers, will be more affected by extreme weather events.
These climate-vulnerable people are generally less responsible for global climate change. This is why we need to address issues of climate justice.
According to a report entitled “Climate Change and the Global Inequality of Carbon Emissions”, by Lucas Chancel of the World Inequality Lab, the richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for nearly half of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2019. and the top 1% emits 17% of the total, while the poorest bottom 50% are only responsible for 12% of the total.
Heavy rainfall in Korea this month killed 14 people. Of the 14 people, four resided in “banjiha” or basement apartments in Seoul, two were foreign workers and two were elderly people. These victims could be considered more vulnerable to the climate crisis.
The banjiha apartment or villa in Seoul is usually located several steps below street level and is therefore very vulnerable to flooding.
As people might remember from the home of a poor family in Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 Oscar-winning film “Parasite,” banjiha apartments are typically the homes of low-income people.
Victims of the August 8 floods included a family of three who drowned – a woman in her 40s with Down syndrome, her sister and her 13-year-old daughter.
The tragic deaths have left Korean society wondering whether it should continue to allow some people to live in the semi-basement apartments. Therefore, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has announced that it will no longer allow underground and semi-basement houses.
This is a step forward in the fight against climate change. However, this is not enough. In August 2020, Greenpeace released an analysis that without a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, by 2030 more than three million people would suffer and 5,885 square kilometers would be inundated by an extreme flood that occurs once every the 10 years.
Given the scale of extreme weather events predicted, in addition to our climate change mitigation efforts, we need to improve our national climate adaptation plan to protect people with a strong focus on climate-vulnerable groups. climate.
In Korea, more than 200 civic organizations are now working together to organize a massive march for climate justice in Seoul on September 24 under the slogan: “Climate disaster, we can’t live like this”.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently said, “We have a choice: collective action or collective suicide.” Unless your choice is the latter, you are more than welcome to join the March for Climate Justice on September 24.
Jang Daul ([email protected]) is a government relations and advocacy specialist in Greenpeace East Asia’s office in Seoul.