AFP

GENEVA-Sea levels this year posted a record high, making low-lying coastal regions ever more vulnerable to extreme weather like super-storm Haiyan, the UN said Wednesday. In an interim report on the planet’s climate, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also estimated that 2013 was on course to be one of the hottest since records began.

“The Philippines is reeling from the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful tropical cyclone ever to hit the country and one of the most intense ever recorded anywhere,” said Michel Jarraud, the agency’s chief. The typhoon and associated storm surge - which survivors likened to a tsunami - tore through the archipelago last week, killing 10,000 people, according to the UN. The Philippines is still recovering from Typhoon Bopha, which in 2012 left almost 2,000 people dead or missing. “Although individual tropical cyclones cannot be directly attributed to climate change, higher sea levels are already making coastal populations more vulnerable to storm surges. We saw this with tragic consequences in the Philippines,” he said.

Experts say the relationship between climate change and cyclones is still an open question. But some predict these events will become more powerful and possibly more frequent due to global warming. “Global sea levels reached a new record high during March 2013,” the WMO said in its report. At 3.2 millimetres (0.12 inches) per year, the current average rise is double the 20th-century trend of 1.6 millimetres (0.06 inches) per year, it said.

In the Philippines, sea levels have risen on average by four times the global rate, climbing by 12 millimetres (0.47 inches). Jarraud said that was a major reason for the havoc wreaked by superstorms. Sea levels are not uniform worldwide, with atmospheric pressure and currents playing a role, as well land subsidence caused by tapping underground water sources. In a report last week, the WMO said that in 2012, concentrations of greenhouse gases hit a new high of 393.1 parts per million, a rise of 2.2 parts per million over the previous year and an increase of 41 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1750.

“We expect them to reach unprecedented levels yet again in 2013. This means that we are committed to a warmer future,” Jarraud said Wednesday. The first nine months of 2013 tied with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period since modern data collection began in 1850. Global land and ocean surface temperature were 0.48 degrees Celsius (0.86 Fahrenheit) above the 1961-1990 average.