It typically takes about a year to determine whether human-induced global warming played a role in a drought, storm, torrential downpour or heatwave – and how big a role it played. This allows climate sceptics to dismiss any given extreme event as part of the “natural weather variation” in the immediate aftermath, while campaigners automatically blame it on global warming. By the time the truth comes out most people have lost interest in the event, the Oxford University scientists involved in the project say.
They are developing a new scientific model that will shrink to as little as three days the time it takes to establish or rule out a link to climate change, in large part by using highly accurate estimates of sea surface temperatures rather than waiting for the actual readings to be published – a process that can often take months.
“We want to clear up the huge amounts of confusion around how climate change is influencing the weather, in both directions. For example, the typhoon in the Philippines that dominated the UN climate change talks in Warsaw last November and that many people put down to climate change – it turned out it had no detectable evidence. And the same goes for Hurricane Sandy,” Dr Friederike Otto, of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, told The Independent.
But there are plenty of other cases where climate change is likely to have been involved, she said. Examples include last year’s record heatwave in Australia – the severity of which an eminent scientist concluded this week “was virtually impossible without climate change” – and the flooding in the UK at the start of the year, which Dr Otto’s department has just established was made 25 per cent more likely by global warming....