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Scientists Get Serious About Linking Specific Disasters to Climate Change

Can we blame the floods in Pakistan on climate change? Maybe.

It's long been recognized, even (especially?) by those of us concerned about climate change, that it's hard—if not downright disingenuous—to blame a particular crazy weather event on gradual, global atmospheric changes. But apparently some real scientists are developing a methodology to do just that.

The aim of the Attribution of Climate-Related Events workshop was to discuss what information is needed to determine the extent to which human-induced climate change can be blamed for extreme weather events - possibly even straight after they have happened.

Assigning blame in this way is not without precedent. In 2004, Allen and his colleagues showed to a high level of confidence that human greenhouse gas emissions had at least doubled the risk of the European heatwave of 2003 occurring....

Ultimately, though, putting numbers on the consequences of climate change will open the door to legal challenges. "There is a possibility that people who are adversely affected by climate change might seek compensation from those they feel are responsible," says Allen.


Using this information to bring legal complaints against specific companies would be incomprehensibly messy. But there's (at least) one area where it could be very useful: The international community could use it to assign liability for a weather disaster in one country to whichever other countries have contributed most to climate change. That would help solve the problem of the lopsided costs of climate change, and address the collective action problem that stymied the Copenhagen meeting.

That said, many of the effects of climate change, such as desertification or sea level rise, are slow moving and hard to think of as discrete events in the first place.

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