Climate attribution studies highlight link to extreme weather events

Climate change attribution studies are increasingly linking extreme weather events to climate change, new analysis finds.

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There is increasing evidence of climate change fingerprint on extreme weather. Image: alh1, creative commons licence

A study by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) shows that over the last year, scientists have published at least 43 research papers looking at links between climate change and extreme weather events, of which 32 found that climate change made the events more likely or more intense.

Combining these numbers with findings from a similar report published last year shows that in the three years since the Paris Agreement, scientists have published 102 papers looking for a link, of which 73 found the fingerprints of climate change. The figures suggest that the pace of investigation and the rate at which positive links are being uncovered are accelerating.

Commenting, report author Richard Black, director of the ECIU, said: “The rising incidence of extreme weather events was one of the factors in the minds of ministers who concluded the Paris Agreement three years ago – and since then, evidence for a link to climate change has undeniably grown.

“The studies that we document here show a climate change fingerprint on events including heatwaves, droughts and storms on every continent except Antarctica, confirming people’s real-life experiences of events like this summer’s North European heatwave.

“As the impacts of the changing climate are increasingly felt on people’s doorsteps around the world, this detailed understanding is going to become more and more important.”

Climate Analytics' Bahamas-based climate researcher and IPCC author Dr Adelle Thomas, who will also be speaking about the report at COP24 in Katowice on 11 December, said that climate attribution studies are particularly important for the most vulnerable countries:

"Attribution of extreme weather events to climate change is critical for small islands, which are already facing increased intensity of tropical cyclones, prolonged periods of drought and more severe coastal flooding.

“Improved scientific understanding of how a warming climate drives or amplifies these events shows that climate-related loss and damage is occurring now, and that vulnerable nations, like small island developing states, need support to address these escalating impacts."

Dr Friederike Otto, Acting Director of the Environmental Change institute at Oxford University and co-investigator on the international World Weather Attribution (WWA) project, said that attribution research will become increasingly important for businesses, investors and insurers:

“Attribution science is becoming faster and more reliable all the time, and in the last few years we’ve seen a marked acceleration in the number of analyses being done.

“And what this shows more and more clearly is that climate change is increasing the odds and the impact of many extreme weather events, in virtually every part of the world.

“In the coming years we can expect the pace of analysis to pick up even further – and that will be of huge importance for policymakers, businesses, insurers and the public, in forming a realistic picture of what climate change is doing right now.”

The report, Even Heavier Weather: Tracking the fingerprints of climate change, three years after the Paris Agreement, can be downloaded here.