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Ethical and normative implications of weather event attribution for policy discussions concerning loss and damage


Extreme weather events, at least in the short term, will arguably cause more damage and thus adversely affect society more than long term changes in the mean climate that are attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. While it was long perceived as impossible to directly link a singular event with external climate drivers the emerging science of probabilistic event attribution renders it possible to attribute the fraction of risk caused by anthropogenic climate change to particular weather events and their associated losses. The robust link of only a small fraction of excessive deaths in, e.g., a heatwave to manmade climate change is very significant from an ethical point of view and we argue that this has widespread implications, e.g. for pending policy decisions concerning the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage and the recognition of such losses in the broader context of climate justice.

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    Because the injustices associated with climate change that receive the most attention are distributional, the most common conception of due reparations or redress for these wrongs is redistributional. By advocating recognitional and restorative justice we don’t deny that compensation may be due for unjust climate harms.


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Correspondence to Allen Thompson.

Additional information

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Climate Justice in Interdisciplinary Research” edited by Christian Huggel, Markus Ohndorf, Dominic Roser, Ivo Wallimann-Helmer.

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Thompson, A., Otto, F.E.L. Ethical and normative implications of weather event attribution for policy discussions concerning loss and damage. Climatic Change 133, 439–451 (2015).

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  • Heat Wave
  • Extreme Event
  • Climate Policy
  • Social Vulnerability
  • Restorative Justice