Friday, February 18, 2011

Flood studies bring climate change lawsuits a step close

EurActiv: A leading climate professor says that new evidence which further reinforces the connection between global warming and extreme rainfall is "extremely important" in setting out a methodology which could one day be used to sue energy companies for climate damage.

Two studies were published in the journal Nature on 16 February, using complex computer simulation models to assess the contribution of planet-warming gases to intense precipitation events. One paper found that greenhouse gas emissions substantially increased the risks of the autumn 2000 floods in the UK. In nine out of ten cases, their model saw the flood risk increased by more than 20%, and in two thirds of cases, the increase was over 90%.

Professor Carlo Jaeger of the Potsdam University for Climate Impact Research, who compiled a study linking carbon emissions to the 2003 heatwave in Europe, told EurActiv that the methodology used in the study had "dramatic consequences," even if it was still evolving.

"It is extremely important that we have a method which enables us to assess fractions of probability, to assess how strongly the dice was loaded because in court, that's actually how liability issues are settled," he said. "If you have an accident, a court [might] ask: 'What was the contribution of the manufacturing supplier or whatever to this accident?' Damages are then allocated by such proportions."

The autumn 2000 deluge, which flooded more than 10,000 homes, took place amid the wettest British autumn since records began in 1766 – and caused £1.3 billion of insurance losses. If climate change could be conclusively shown to have enhanced the probability of flooding by 20%, then the same proportion of the damages could theoretically be recouped in damages from companies that had contributed to it.

"Whether this will ever happen, whether this has a chance of success, is another story," Professor Jaeger admitted. The computer systems involved in the study depended heavily on seasonal forecasting which is not always reliable, he said….

Emblem from the 1648 book of emblems Icones mortis by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer

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