A new commentary in the inaugural issue of PLOS Climate by two researchers, including Stony Brook University Professor Kevin A. Reed, calls for developed nations to direct resources toward operationalizing extreme weather events and impact attribution. While this kind of attribution technology is commonplace in the research community, if used by governments, it could play a vital role in improving the global response to climate change by making that response more equitable and effective.
Authors Reed, an associate professor and associate dean of research at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Michael F. Wehner, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, emphasize that the costs of extreme weather over the past 50 years are unevenly distributed across the world. Generally, the most financially expensive weather events have been hurricanes in the United States, but the deadliest events are droughts and floods in developing nations.
“Our idea is to help guide and push operational centers and governments to use attribution technology to better quantify losses and damage due to climate change so the developed world can be better responsive to losses and damages in the developing world,” said Reed.
The authors urge that extreme weather event attribution — science that quantifies the influence of anthropogenic climate change on specific individual events — can indeed play a significant role in quantifying loss and damage. They cite two examples in Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and a series of global heat waves over more than 25 years.
“While there has been much discussion about operationalizing extreme weather event attribution, none such exists today,” they write. “Rather attribution statements are performed by a myriad of academic-minded groups, mostly as research projects.”
They add that the credibility of extreme weather event attribution statements has been demonstrated for a wide variety of impactful events, and that observational, computational and statistical tools are readily available.
“Thus, we call on the funding agencies of developed nations to direct resources to their weather forecast services to begin to operationalize extreme weather event and impact attribution.”