David Adam and Afua Hirsch
Tuesday, Dec 09, 2008
People affected by worsening storms, heatwaves and floods could soon be able to sue the oil and power companies they blame for global warming, a leading climate expert has said.
Myles Allen, a physicist at Oxford University, said a breakthrough that allows scientists to judge the role man-made climate change played in extreme weather events could see a rush to the courts over the next decade.
He said: “We are starting to get to the point that when an adverse weather event occurs we can quantify how much more likely it was made by human activity. And people adversely affected by climate change today are in a position to document and quantify their losses. This is going to be hugely important.”
Allen’s team has used the new technique to work out whether global warming worsened the UK floods in autumn 2000, which inundated 10,000 properties, disrupted power supplies and led to train services being cancelled, motorways closed and 11,000 people evacuated from their homes – at a total cost of £1bn.
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He would not comment on the results before publication, but said people affected by floods could “potentially” use a positive finding to begin legal action.
The technique involves running two computer models to simulate the conditions that led to extreme weather events. One model includes human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, the second assumes the industrial revolution never happened and that carbon levels in the atmosphere have not increased over the last century. Comparing the results pins down the impact of man-made global warming. “As the science has evolved this is now possible, it’s just a question of computing power,” he said.
This article was posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 at 4:59 am