, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 303-318

The End-to-End Attribution Problem: From Emissions to Impacts

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Abstract

When a damaging extreme meteorological event occurs, the question often arises as to whether that event was caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The question is more than academic, since people affected by the event will be interested in recurring damages if they find that someone is at fault. However, since this extreme event could have occurred by chance in an unperturbed climate, we are currently unable to properly respond to this question. A solution lies in recognising the similarity with the cause-effect issue in the epidemiological field. The approach there is to consider the changes in the risk of the event occurring as attributable, as against the occurrence of the event itself. Inherent in this approach is a recognition that knowledge of the change in risk as well as the amplitude of the forcing itself are uncertain. Consequently, the fraction of the risk attributable to the external forcing is a probabilistic quantity. Here we develop and demonstrate this methodology in the context of the climate change problem.