The human impact of climate change has raised the risk of extreme weather events such as the storms that hit Ireland last year, a leading environmental scientist has warned.
However, Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford, said it is important to distinguish the difference between claiming that climate change is the cause of extreme weather, and stating that it makes events such as storms more likely.
He compared the situation to loading some of a handful of dice — the outcome of rolling the dice cannot be guaranteed, but the loading of some of them makes it more likely that they will all roll the same number. Using this example, he said climate change is affecting the probability of extreme weather.
Speaking at the first of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 Climate Change Lecture Series in Dublin, Prof Allen said that assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have found that the human influence on climate change has made it more likely that the type of storm that comes once in a century is now more likely to come once every 80 years.
“If somebody asked me now what was the role of climate change in the storms that battered Lahinch in 2014, we’d be able to say human influence on climate change so far has increased the risk of a storm of that magnitude by roughly 25%,” he said.
“That’s not nothing, it’s also not enormous,” he said.
Prof Allen said that, for practical purposes, such an increase in risk would still mean that the likelihood of such events is still once in a lifetime.
“We are seeing real but still quite subtle impacts on global climate change on our weather in this part of the world,” he said, adding that “subtle” in scientific terms does not mean unimportant.
Prof Allen noted that events that would have been extremely unlikely without climate change are still very rare. He also said he hoped that weather services would not just forecast the weather, but also show what the weather would be like if it was free of the effects of climate change.
“You keep being told to do something about climate change, it’s time we all know what climate change is doing to us,” he said.
“It is possible to quantify how much climate change is affecting our lives. We have to do it, through understanding the impact of climate change on extreme weather and in my view, by the time my children grow up, I think an assessment at the end of a winter should be part of the standard offering of climate services from Met Éireann or the Met Office or our standard Met services.”
The climate change lecture was held at Dublin’s Mansion House last Wednesday and was live streamed on the EPA website.
An audience also watched the lecture from UCC and a question and answer session chaired by broadcaster John Bowman was held after the talk.
Meanwhile, countries are submitting their “intended nationally determined contributions”, outlining action they plan to take on climate change, ahead of UN talks in Paris at the end of the year to secure a new global deal on the issue.
Instead of putting forward plans for the least effort they thought they could get away with, countries should treat their pledges as an “investment prospectus” to attract international investors to their economy, said Climate Group chief executive Mark Kenber.
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