Climate change, no doubt, is a phenomenon affecting many nations, if not all, across the world today with some exploring innovative, climate-smart initiatives to address this largely ignored existential threat.
Sadly, the awareness of the dangers inherent in ignoring this threat to humanity’s continued existence is low with the few responses from governments and nations ranging from apathy, wariness to disdain.
In Nigeria, for instance, climate scientists and newsrooms, who should be at the forefront of calling attention to this global challenge, have not been able to fulfil this obligation due to a multiplicity of factors, mainly funding.
There is now a niche known as attribution science, a few scientists across the globe are exploring to bridge the gap in information.
Climate change, Nigerian story
Climate change is the long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen through natural causes or as a direct response to human activities, which include but are not limited to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
Climate change has impacted Nigeria negatively in the past few decades though not as drastically as in some other parts of the globe.
From low crop yield, food shortage, reduced livestock production, loss of income, public health crisis, decreased hydroelectric power supply to loss of homes and road networks, Nigeria has had its fair share of the turbulence of global warming.
To tackle this, the Nigerian government has introduced some policies aimed at mitigating climate change effects. These include the National Environmental Policy; National Drought and Desertification Policy; National Forest Policy and the National Erosion and Flood Control Policy.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Nigerian farmers are using climate-smart tactics to fight the effects of climate change.
This newspaper also reported on how farmers in the nation’s capital now use organic pesticides to fight the scourge of climate change.
Apart from this, climate agro-forestry models are also actively being used by some of these farmers.
Across the globe today, over the last few months, some scientists have taken up the gauntlet in helping the world better understand the climate change phenomenon using science as a vehicle of interpretation.
Scientists now use raw data and a bit of maths to establish possible links between climate change and (extreme) weather events.
Climate refers to patterns of weather in an area over long periods of time while weather refers to the atmosphere at a particular place and time which can be described in terms of air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed.
Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It is different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in particular regions during a particular month or season.
Extreme weather points to specific turbulent events such as heatwaves, thunderstorms, tsunamis, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods which usually end in tragedies.
Due to the low level of awareness of this technical field, it was usually difficult to determine if such extreme weather events were directly related to climate change or natural factors.
But scientists are now using the field of attribution science to bring some more clarity to these questions.
Today, climate scientists, using computer models and data from certain regions, can determine to a large extent how climate change has (or has not) influenced weather-related tragic events in such areas.
These scientists are going even deeper to seek answers to climate change questions by developing more computer models to not only analyse climate data with maths but find simpler ways to “quantify, or measure, the impacts of climate change’’.
For instance, Carbon Brief, a U.K. website recently reported how climate scientists mapped out over 350 peer-reviewed studies of weather extremes around the world and analysed the trends.
The scientists found out, for instance, that extreme events have increased in the last 10 to 15 years with 70 per cent of 405 extreme weather events “made more likely or more intense by human-induced climate change.’’
They also documented that 92 per cent of 122 attribution studies of extreme heat found that climate change made them (heat) more likely or more severe. They noted too that 58 per cent of 81 rainfall studies found that human activities “made them more probable or intense and 65 per cent of 69 drought events were worsened by climate change…”
Meanwhile, Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, at the Imperial College London, during a lecture ‘Attributing Extreme Weather’, last week with a group of global scholars, journalists and activists, said the field has put climate science ‘on the offensive’ in the discourse on climate change.
Ms Otto was speaking with the members of the first cohort of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (OCJN), a group of professionals who come from over 60 nations.
A PREMIUM TIMES editor on the Standards Desk, Tosin Omoniyi, was one of the two Nigerian journalists selected to join the fellowship with others picked from the U.S., Lebanon, Czech Republic, Poland, Argentina, China, the UK, Nepal, Denmark, Philippines, among other nations.
The Oxford Climate Journalism Network is aimed at addressing some of the challenges journalists face when reporting on climate change and helping editors and news media executives develop their approaches to these issues. The OCJN is a new programme at the Reuters Institute for the study of journalism at the University of Oxford.
Funded for the first year by a £477,170 grant from the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the project is led by two co-founders, the Reuters Institute’s deputy director, Meera Selva, and visiting fellow and advisory board member, Wolfgang Blau.
Mrs Otto, in her comments, explained how attribution science is trying to bridge the information gap on the link between human-induced climate change and extreme weather.
‘’When we talk about climate change in the media, particularly in the policy domain, it is usually talking about global mean temperature, and future climate change, keeping to global mean temperature goals agreed to at the Paris Agreement…we talk about climate change as if everything is fine until we reach these temperature goals. So, everything is fine until we reach 1.5 degrees and then the world is going to end. This, of course, is not what climate change is,” she said.
She said climate change manifests primarily “through the changing risks and intensity of extreme weather events and sea-level rise’’.
“So, the warmer it gets, the more these events change and so it is a gradual change. And it has long begun. For a long time, we have been in the era of loss and damage. People have been dying from the impact of climate change for decades and also the economic impact and other kinds of loss and damage have occurred. We don’t have an inventory of these so we don’t know exactly what they are but we do know they happened. We are also able to pinpoint the role of climate change in individual extreme events.’’
On attribution science, she adds: “So, we can’t say this was climate change, yes or no. But what we can say now (with attribution science) is whether and to what extent human-induced climate change has altered the likelihood of an event to occur…and while this is not always straightforward to study in detail, the idea behind this study and how this science works is not very complicated…’’
How useful can attribution science be?
Meanwhile, experts say attribution science can provide great insights into the impacts of climate change across the world.
Apart from its ability to help educate, prepare, and influence global communities as they face the ravages of a warming world, it is also providing useful answers to knotty questions using science and data.
It has also become a tool to resolve legal battles revolving around climate justice.
For instance, the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has established the Climate Attribution Database.
The database contains 385 scientific resources revolving around climate change attribution, extreme event attribution, impact attribution, and source attribution which are expected to assist scientists in linking attribution science to existing laws and policies.
In addition, it also helps lawyers, who handle climate change-related litigation, access resources that can aid their cases.
Currently, through attribution science, many extreme weather events that have rocked parts of the world have been persuasively linked to the effects of climate change and are increasingly easier to link to specific sources of emissions.
According to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Centre, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the combustion of its fossil fuel products by 45 per cent by 2030, using a form of “source attribution.”
The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights also determined that fossil fuel companies have a responsibility under a Philippines human rights law to reduce the emissions that result from their products and services.
Experts say attribution science is now making it possible “to quantify increased risks, and this will likely result in more lawsuits in the future.”
It is, however, yet to be seen how science will help the world better understand and address an existential threat that has largely failed to attract commensurate attention from a world already battling with other deadly challenges.
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