Attribution science has led to major advances in linking the impacts of extreme weather and human-induced climate change, but large gaps in published research still obscure the full extent of the damage caused. by climate change, warns a new study published today in the first issue of Environmental research: climate, a new academic journal published by IOP Publishing.
Researchers from the University of Oxford, Imperial College London and Victoria University of Wellington looked at the impacts of five different types of extreme weather events and to what extent these damaging events could be attributed to change human-induced climate.
To do this, they combined information from the latest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the results of a growing number of attribution studies – where weather observations and climate models are used to determine the role that climate change has played in specific weather events.
They found that for some extreme weather events, such as heat waves, the link to climate change is clear and unequivocal across the world, and the magnitude of the impacts is likely underestimated by insurers, economists and governments. For others, such as tropical cyclones, the article shows that there are significant differences between regions and that the role climate change plays in each event is more variable than for heat waves.
“The rise of more extreme and intense weather events such as heat waves, droughts and heavy rains has increased dramatically in recent years, affecting people around the world. Understanding the role climate change plays in these events can help us better prepare for it. It also allows us to determine the true cost of carbon emissions in our lives,” says Ben Clarke of the University of Oxford, lead author of the study.
The authors note that there is an urgent need for more data on low- and middle-income countries, where the impacts of climate change are most strongly felt. Research into these impacts is hampered when national weather data is not publicly available – examples include South Africa, where corruption denies funds to weather reporting facilities, resulting in huge data gaps in an otherwise good network; drought-prone Somalia, where disorderly regime changes disrupted measurements; and many countries, such as Poland, where meteorological data is only available at high cost, and therefore generally not for publicly funded research.
“We don’t really have a comprehensive overview or detailed inventory of the impacts of climate change today,” says Dr Friederike Otto of the Grantham Institute — Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, co – author of the study.
“But we now have the tools and the advanced understanding to create such an inventory, but these need to be applied more evenly across the world to improve our understanding in areas where the evidence is lacking. Otherwise, we are denying countries the knowledge needed to make the best use of scarce funds and improve people’s chances of living safely and adapting to climate change,” she concludes.
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