A new pilot initiative will use the latest in attribution science to work with African and Asian societies to understand the role of climate change in extreme weather events and prepare for future ones.

‘Raising Risk Awareness’ brings together scientists from World Weather Attribution (WWA) – an effort led by Climate Central with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC), University of Oxford, University of Melbourne and Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute – with the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). It will assess whether climate change has contributed to extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and heat waves in several countries across East Africa and South Asia.

“We are looking to kick off new conversations about how developing countries can reduce their vulnerability to climate change and construct more resilient societies after climate-related disasters,” said Sam Bickersteth, CDKN’s Chief Executive.

Scientists now have the means to determine if human-induced climate change contributed to an extreme event – or if the event would have happened anyway. Techniques for attributing such extreme events to climate change – in nearly-real time – have advanced in the last 10 years and are considered the new frontier of climate science. If scientists detect that climate change has played a role, they can indicate how often such events are likely to happen in the future and work with countries to brace for similar events.

Heidi Cullen, Chief Scientist of Climate Central and speaking on behalf of WWA, said: “There is a pressing need to assess the underlying drivers of extreme weather events to understand how climate change is altering the risk of these events both now and in the future.”

Maarten van Aalst, Director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, another WWA member, said: “It makes a real difference to policymakers and planners if they can find out quickly after a disaster whether such extreme events are becoming more or less frequent. Some decisions about recovery and reconstruction need to be made within days or weeks.”

“Weather-related disasters are having the greatest impact on developing countries, where data may be scarce and research limited,” added Wendy Schmidt. “’Raising Risk Awareness’ will bring modeling and the analysis of big data to those who need the information the most.” Funding for this pilot project comes jointly from Eric and Wendy Schmidt and the UK Department for International Development.

“Sea level rise caused by human activity, through carbon emissions and warming, makes every coastal flood bigger and more destructive,” said Ben Strauss, VP of Sea Level and Climate Impacts at Climate Central. “More accurate local assessments of coastal flood threats in the context of rising seas can give communities the information they need to prepare before disasters occur.”

Members of the public also have a role to play in assessing the role of climate change in extreme weather events. Friederike Otto, Senior Researcher at Oxford University, a part of WWA, explained: “For our regional climate modelling, we are entirely dependent on the computing time donations from members of the public. Volunteers can sign up to participate in, which harnesses the power of thousands of personal computers to run our models.”

The ‘Raising Risk Awareness’ project will run through March 2017. The pilot will help determine whether the program may be replicated and expanded.

You can learn more about RRA and the science of extreme weather attribution through this recorded webinar conducted on December 19, 2016.

Photo: Nomad Tales/flickr