Adaptation & Resilience
Climate Change
Early Warning & Risk Analysis
Finance
Global Issues
Lou del Bello
Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash.com

Climate-driven disasters are becoming business as usual. But how did climate change affect a particular extreme weather event such as hurricane Maria? This article looks at how attribution science helps policy making get off on the right foot and argues that in light of pressing climate risks, we must move from emergency relief to resilient programming.

The science of extreme weather attribution is able to estimate with increasing precision the part that climate change is likely to have played in natural disasters such as heatwaves and hurricanes. Not only does attribution science answer important academic questions, it also revolutionizes the politics of climate change, from furthering the case for liability and compensation after natural disasters to helping decision makers rethink the shape of our future cities and societies.

Will the UNFCCC climate conference look at attribution science?

Attribution science has equipped developing nations, many of which have battled with the worst impacts of climate change for decades, with a new tool that will reinforce their compensation claims. While the chances of financial compensation were nearly nonexistent when a global loss and damage mechanism was established in 2013, the case is now getting stronger.

"The president of Fiji [which holds the COP23 presidency] has indicated that he wants to make the issue a major part of the coming climate talks" says Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Bangladesh Independent University and a veteran of the UN climate change proceedings.

"When recognizing loss and damage, one of the issues we need to deal with is compensating people after the event," he says. "Now the US has laws for compensation at the national level, and single states can present claims to congress and agree on financial aid. But what do you do when the emergency is at a global level and it is scientifically proven to be human induced?"

Attribution science may help climate victims and hold polluters to account

Climate risk insurance that targets the poorest and most vulnerable is one course of action, but "another idea that is gaining momentum is to put a levy on fossil fuels companies to compensate victims who are suffering the impacts of loss and damage," says Huq. This movement, he believes, adds new weight to legal cases seeking to hold big polluters to account for climate change.

Attribution expert Friederike Otto, a researcher at the Environmental Change Institute of the University of Oxford in the UK, agrees that "It would now be hard from a lawyer’s perspective to construct a case maintaining that the climate change factor doesn't count".

Does that mean that from now on any damage from natural disasters will have a better chance of being compensated? This would open new questions on the risk of governments not acting in advance because they expect financial aid.

Better attribution helps get off on the right foot

"Attribution is not just an important advancement for science," Otto explains, "but also for development. When bad things happen, many just blame climate change," implying that good governance has nothing to do with the damage caused by disasters. "But that's often not true at all," says Otto. "It might just be that even without climate change, houses and other infrastructure were built on a floodplain, for example. And there is not much you can do."

So in countries where governance issues are felt more acutely, it is important to "disentangle what you really can do right now, addressing vulnerability and exposure". Better attribution will help hold governments accountable and allow officials to get off on the right foot with a new climate-sensitive approach to urban planning.


Climate Diplomacy
Development
Water
Asia
Sabine Blumstein and Benjamin Pohl, adelphi

Central Asian countries have long been competing over the water resources of the Syr Darya and Amu Darya river basins. Despite political commitment to cooperation, the policies of the five Central Asian republics – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – have largely been driven by uncoordinated and partly contradicting national strategies. This focus on short-term national interests entails significant financial costs and major risks for the future development of the whole region.

Adaptation & Resilience
Climate Change
Climate Diplomacy
Conflict Transformation
Development
Security
Sustainable Transformation
Asia
Dhanasree Jayaram, Manipal Academy of Higher Education

The destruction caused by Cyclone Ockhi in South Asia portends what a ‘climate-changed’ world has in store for humankind, especially taking into consideration the adverse human security implications of such disasters that have to be addressed urgently. Dhanasree Jayaram argues that planetary security in this context can be best ensured at the regional level.  

Development
Security
Technology & Innovation
Water
North America
Sabine Blumstein and Benjamin Pohl, adelphi

In November 2017, the U.S. government released its first ever Global Water Strategy – to our knowledge also the first of its kind globally. The opening page cites President Trump claiming that ‘[w]ater may be the most important issue we face for the next generation’. This priority may surprise observers of the current U.S. administration.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods
Climate Change
Conflict Transformation
Environment & Migration
Gender
Land & Food
Security
Water
Sub-Saharan Africa
Chitra Nagarajan, Conflict Advisor

The Lake Chad region experiences a multitude of crises: lack of employment and education opportunities, resource scarcity and violent conflict, all exacerbated by the effects of climate change, making the Lake Chad region Africa’s largest humanitarian emergency. At the margins of the Planetary Security Conference 2017, we spoke with the independent conflict adviser Chitra Nagarajan about the region’s future.