As delegates negotiate here in Bonn, India is suffering through a record heat wave pushing thermometers towards 125° and setting new temperature records – a hallmark of climate change. Hundreds have died, a tragic reminder that adaptation has its limits. Pakistan, too, has lost lives to the heat wave gripping South Asia.
Other countries are also suffering this week through events that make for a grim fit with the trend of ever more extreme weather driven by global warming. Tropical storm Agatha has ravaged Central America, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands and taking over a hundred lives in epic flooding driven by record heavy rains, another classic fingerprint of global warming which draws more moisture into storms. The mounting death toll has made that storm one of the top ten deadliest Eastern Pacific tropical cyclones on record. In Alaska, temperature records are tumbling and wildfires are raging in an unprecedented early start to the 2010 Alaskan fire season that has already witnessed 193 fires and emptied every smokejumper base in the state. Again, the change in timing and intensity of the fire season speaks to the changing climate.
With negotiators now staring at each other over the tables in Bonn, six months removed from Copenhagen, the question of the day is whether they have a political mandate from their home capitols to get a move on, or whether we will witness two weeks of rhetoric and no action. The climate has already delivered its mandate, but will politics trump science?