Climate Change - Next Step: The Year the Climate Changed

Among the casualties of Hurricane Katrina – and floods in Europe – was one of the core assumptions of climate change sceptics: that rich industrialised countries would not be vulnerable to extreme weather. It is too early to know the exact repercussions, but nestled within a set of key political events, the map of climate change politics seems likely to emerge fundamentally recast.

The World Today
Published 1 October 2005 Updated 15 October 2020 4 minute READ

Professor Michael Grubb

Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy, Institute of Sustainable Resources, University College London

From a climate change perspective, the importance of the hurricane is not that it was caused by climate change – whether or not it actually was, will be difficult to resolve, because the question fundamentally misunderstands the nature of extreme climate impacts.

Climate change alters probabilities. Higher sea levels make breaching of levees more likely. Extreme sea surface temperatures, associated with the thickening of the greenhouse blanket and the removal over past decades of the masking layer of other pollutants, make intense hurricanes more likely, and also weaken the corals that help dampen coastal storm waters. But both are subject to multiple other influences too.

Although there is some evidence of tropical storms becoming more intense, the more exceptional the nature of the event, the more sparse are the statistics to rely on in passing judgement about trends and causes.

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