On the attribution of the impacts of extreme weather events to anthropogenic climate change

Sarah E. Perkins-Kirkpatrick*, Dáithí A. Stone, Daniel M. Mitchell, Suzanne Rosier, Andrew D. King, Y T Eunice Lo, Jacob Pastor-Paz, David Frame, Michael Wehner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)
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Investigations into the role of anthropogenic climate change in extreme weather events are now starting to extend into analysis of anthropogenic impacts on non-climate (e.g. socio-economic) systems. However, care needs to be taken when making this extension, because methodological choices regarding extreme weather attribution can become crucial when considering the events' impacts. The fraction of attributable risk (FAR) method, useful in extreme weather attribution research, has a very specific interpretation concerning a class of events, and there is potential to misinterpret results from weather event analyses as being applicable to specific events and their impact outcomes. Using two case studies of meteorological extremes and their impacts, we argue that FAR is not generally appropriate when estimating the magnitude of the anthropogenic signal behind a specific impact. Attribution assessments on impacts should always be carried out in addition to assessment of the associated meteorological event, since it cannot be assumed that the anthropogenic signal behind the weather is equivalent to the signal behind the impact because of lags and nonlinearities in the processes through which the impact system reacts to weather. Whilst there are situations where employing FAR to understand the climate change signal behind a class of impacts is useful (e.g. 'system breaking' events), more useful results will generally be produced if attribution questions on specific impacts are reframed to focus on changes in the impact return value and magnitude across large samples of factual and counterfactual climate model and impact simulations. We advocate for constant interdisciplinary collaboration as essential for effective and robust impact attribution assessments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number024009
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
S E P-K is supported by Australian Research Council Grant Numbers FT170100106 and CE170100023. Y T E Lo was supported by the NERC Grant HAPPI-Health (NE/R009554/1). A D K is supported by Australian Research Council Grant Number DE180100638. D A S, S M R, and D J F are supported by the Whakahura project, funded through the Endeavour programme of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment of Aoteaora New Zealand. D M M acknowledges support from his NERC independent fellowship (NE/N014057/1) and Turing Institute fellowship. MFW is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE340AC02-05CH11231. We also acknowledge an anonymous reviewer how provided invaluable guidance in understanding the underlying assumptions of our analyses.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.


  • impacts
  • attribution
  • climate and weather extremes
  • Climate change


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