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Friday, May 29, 2009

Attribution of Climate Change Consequences

The Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) has released what will likely prove to be a rather controversial report, entitled Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis. The GHF claims the report represents the "first consolidated volume specifically and exclusively which focus on the adverse impacts of the climate change on the human society across the world." While attempting to drive home the current burden of morbidity and mortality associated with climate variability and change, the report appears to stray too far in the direction of complete speculation when it comes to attribution. For example, the Executive Summary states,

"The findings of report indicate that every year climate change leaves over 300,000 people dead, 325 million people seriously affected, and economic losses of US$125 billion. . . . These already alarming figures may prove too conservative."
These damages are based upon the percentage of climate disasters attributable to climate change as well as the percentage of environmental degradation attributable to climate change. Yet there are few (if any) credible estimates of the climate change contribution to any individual climatic event or localised environmental impact. Hence, any estimation of current annual climate change consequences can only be based upon entirely speculative assumptions. My suspicion is that such numbers rely upon the fairly liberal attribution of extreme weather to anthropogenic activity (but I await the posting of the entire report). Yet, as many have made efforts to point out, with rapid growth in the global population, human vulnerability to climate variability alone is likely to rise significantly in the future. The principle challenge is to rapidly increase the capacity of humans to cope with global change (not just climate change). So as an intellectual exercise, there is certainly utility in attempting to address the challenge of detecting and quantifying an anthropogenic signal in global morbidity and mortality statistics. However, the political climate of 2009 means that the advocates on either side of the mitigation debate will be pushing the envelope in order to compel action (or inaction).

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