The increasing heat waves can be clearly and unequivocally attributed to climate change worldwide. However, researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Oxford have determined that governments, economists and insurers underestimate the extent of the impact. For example, the unprecedented heat wave in Siberia two years ago would have been impossible without man-made climate change.
Heat waves have become more frequent and intense and are directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths worldwide, the researchers write in the journal “Environmental Research: Climate”. Due to major deficiencies in the data situation, this influence has most likely been significantly underestimated to date.
The scientists conduct attribution research. Based on the current report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a number of other studies, they analyzed the extent to which specific extreme weather events such as heat waves, extreme precipitation, forest fires, tropical cyclones and droughts can be clearly attributed to the influence of climate change.
Lack of data hinders research
The authors write that the findings are, so to speak, “price tags” for the various effects of climate change, which would have consequences for the necessary limitation of global warming and adaptation to the changed climate. According to the study, the connection cannot be demonstrated as clearly as with heat waves: In the case of tropical cyclones, for example, the region and the respective event play a role in how strongly these can be attributed to climate change.
Attribution research is currently subject to some limitations, the research team writes. At the moment there is still a lack of opportunities to address geographic heterogeneities, and there is often a lack of data on the climate and its effects. Therefore, the researchers examined the current state of knowledge about the impacts of climate change on five weather hazards: extreme temperatures, heavy rainfall, drought, wildfires and tropical cyclones.
According to the researchers, heat extremes have increased in probability and intensity worldwide due to climate change, and tens of thousands of deaths can be directly attributed to them. These numbers are underestimated due to a lack of information, especially in low- and middle-income countries. There are big gaps there. At the same time, for example, some droughts are not due to climate change.
“The tools are there”
For better research into the connections, transparent information and weather data from many countries are urgently needed. Corruption in South Africa, for example, hinders the financing of meteorological stations. In drought-stricken Somalia, disorderly changes of government led to an interruption in measurements. In Poland and many other countries, on the other hand, weather data is only available for a high fee.
“We do not yet have a complete and detailed overview of the effects of climate change today,” said German climate researcher Friederike Otto, who works at Imperial College London. However, there are now the tools and the understanding to develop such an overview – and this must also be done worldwide. “Otherwise we are depriving countries of the knowledge of how they can best use their scarce resources and how people can best and most safely adapt to climate change.”
In attribution research, the possible impact of climate change on extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves, cold snaps and extreme rainfall is communicated and analyzed. In principle, it should be possible to estimate the extent to which man-made climate change is responsible for the occurrence of individual weather or climate extremes. For such statistical analyses, climate simulations with specially selected boundary conditions are used, since the observation time series are often not available for a sufficiently long time, explains the German Weather Service (DWD). Imperial College London works with the DWD, among others.
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