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Attribution: how is it relevant for loss and damage policy and practice?

James, R. A., Jones, R. G., Boyd, E., Young, H. R., Otto, F. E. L., Huggel, C. and Fuglestvedt, J. S. (2019) Attribution: how is it relevant for loss and damage policy and practice? In: Mechler, R., Bouwer, L. M., Schinko, T., Surminski, S. and Linnerooth-Bayer, J. (eds.) Loss and Damage from Climate Change: Concepts, Methods and Policy Options. Climate Risk Management, Policy and Governance (CRMPG). Springer, pp. 113-154. ISBN 9783319720265

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-72026-5_5


Attribution has become a recurring issue in discussions about Loss and Damage (L&D). In this highly-politicised context, attribution is often associated with responsibility and blame; and linked to debates about liability and compensation. The aim of attribution science, however, is not to establish responsibility, but to further scientific understanding of causal links between elements of the Earth System and society. This research into causality could inform the management of climate-related risks through improved understanding of drivers of relevant hazards, or, more widely, vulnerability and exposure; with potential benefits regardless of political positions on L&D. Experience shows that it is nevertheless difficult to have open discussions about the science in the policy sphere. This is not only a missed opportunity, but also problematic in that it could inhibit understanding of scientific results and uncertainties, potentially leading to policy planning which does not have sufficient scientific evidence to support it. In this chapter, we first explore this dilemma for science-policy dialogue, summarising several years of research into stakeholder perspectives of attribution in the context of L&D. We then aim to provide clarity about the scientific research available, through an overview of research which might contribute evidence about the causal connections between anthropogenic climate change and losses and damages, including climate science, but also other fields which examine other drivers of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. Finally, we explore potential applications of attribution research, suggesting that an integrated and nuanced approach has potential to inform planning to avert, minimise and address losses and damages. The key messages are In the political context of climate negotiations, questions about whether losses and damages can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change are often linked to issues of responsibility, blame, and liability. Attribution science does not aim to establish responsibility or blame, but rather to investigate drivers of change. Attribution science is advancing rapidly, and has potential to increase understanding of how climate variability and change is influencing slow onset and extreme weather events, and how this interacts with other drivers of risk, including socio-economic drivers, to influence losses and damages. Over time, some uncertainties in the science will be reduced, as the anthropogenic climate change signal becomes stronger, and understanding of climate variability and change develops. However, some uncertainties will not be eliminated. Uncertainty is common in science, and does not prevent useful applications in policy, but might determine which applications are appropriate. It is important to highlight that in attribution studies, the strength of evidence varies substantially between different kinds of slow onset and extreme weather events, and between regions. Policy-makers should not expect the later emergence of conclusive evidence about the influence of climate variability and change on specific incidences of losses and damages; and, in particular, should not expect the strength of evidence to be equal between events, and between countries. Rather than waiting for further confidence in attribution studies, there is potential to start working now to integrate science into policy and practice, to help understand and tackle drivers of losses and damages, informing prevention, recovery, rehabilitation, and transformation.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:81008


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