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Studies show scientists can increasingly link extreme weather to climate change


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Essential Energy Insights, April 2021

Studies show scientists can increasingly link extreme weather to climate change

The rate and pace at which scientists are linking extreme weather events to climate change appear to be accelerating, a London-based think tank and a scientific journal indicated in recent separate findings.

The reports come as investors are putting pressure on publicly traded companies in their portfolios to assess and disclose their potential physical and political transitional risks and opportunities associated with climate change.

Since 2004 — the year scientists began examining the link between specific events and climate change — scientists have published at least 200 papers in the field on those topics, about half of which were published in the last three years, think tank Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit announced in an analysis released Dec. 11.

From December 2017 to November 2018 alone, scientists were able to link climate change to extreme weather events about three-quarters of the time. Scientists found that climate change could be linked to all of the 11 heatwaves they examined and to four droughts, seven rainfall and flooding events, six storms, one wildfire and three cold weather-related events. A number of those studies examined events in the U.S.

Although hurricanes and droughts are naturally occurring phenomena, scientists determined that climate change made certain events more likely to occur, increased the chance of those events happening more often, increased the intensity of those events or caused specific event-related impacts tied to climate change.

"The old argument that you can't link climate change to any particular weather event is now dead, I mean that's just now wrong," the think tank's director, Richard Black, said in announcing the study at a side event of the 24th annual session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, more commonly referred to as COP24, in Katowice, Poland.

Meanwhile, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a special report Dec. 10 consisting of multiple scientific papers on climate change, including some that linked global warming to extreme weather events in 2017 such as droughts in the U.S. northern Great Plains and east Africa, heatwaves in the European-Mediterranean region, and extreme flooding and rainfall in China, Peru and Bangladesh. The report also included a study on how water managers may want to revise their plans in light of the flooding that led to infrastructure damage around the Oroville Dam in California and flooding in Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

Delegates from more than 190 countries at COP24 are in their second and final week of negotiations to create a rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change. Although President Donald Trump has pledged to pull the U.S. from the Paris accord, which aims to reduce emissions enough to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees C from pre-industrial levels, Trump did send delegates to the climate talks. At the same time, the White House held a pro-coal event on the sidelines of COP24 and joined with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in refusing to endorse a recent United Nation's report that found fossil fuels need to be phased out by 2050 under the Paris agreement.