UN agency urges airports to prepare for climate change

ICAO warns of increased cloud cover reducing visibility, rising sea levels affecting airstrips

MONTREAL/LOS ANGELES • The United Nations agency responsible for air travel standards has urged airports to start preparing now for severe impacts related to global warming on operations.

The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Tuesday warned in its 2016 environmental report of increased cloud cover at airports in the Middle East and Latin America affecting visibility, as a result of rising temperatures and humidity.

It also pointed to a need to protect coastal airstrips around the world from rising sea levels.

The report warned of increased flight turbulence caused by changes in atmospheric jet streams, more sand and dust storms clogging engines, and more occurrences of ice on wings.

"The robustness of aircraft and indeed the robustness of the entire aviation system should be monitored carefully, as the sector will have to prepare for the more extreme meteorological conditions that are expected in the future as the climate continues to change," ICAO said in the report.

"The main effects will be more evident three or four decades from now, and onwards," it said. "There is thus no reason to panic."

But, it added, a "rational response at all airports is to carry out risk assessments of existing and new infrastructure in order to think ahead, reduce risks, minimise life cycle costs, and ensure the reliability and regularity of the aviation sector".

As an example of infrastructure at risk, it noted that out of 46 airports in Norway, 20 are "quite exposed" and several have runways less than 4m above sea level.

A 2014 assessment found several of them were at risk of flooding.

Last year was the warmest year on record for land and sea, partly because seasonal El Nino climate patterns prevailed year-round, and melting ice pushed sea levels to the highest ever, a study based on the work of more than 450 scientists worldwide confirmed on Tuesday.

The global sea level rose about 7cm above the 1993 average, according to the State of the Climate report published by the American Meteorological Society.

Over the past two decades, the level has risen at an average of 3.3mm a year, with the highest gains in the western Pacific and Indian oceans, it added.

The study followed a report by two United States government agencies, which found that the global average temperature last year was the hottest ever by the widest margin on record.

The record heat last year was driven by a combination of long-term global warming and one of the strongest El Nino climate patterns in at least half a century, it said. El Nino brings unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean after late December and can cause catastrophic weather conditions.

Last year was the first time that the earth was 1 deg C warmer than in pre-industrial times, the report said. El Nino is likely to set the stage for another record-breaking temperature this year, it added.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2016, with the headline UN agency urges airports to prepare for climate change. Subscribe