Until relatively recently it was a commonly held view that climate change had a significant effect on the weather and natural disasters. News reports covering natural disasters would often refer to climate change but state that there was no way to determine its exact influence on any individual event. There are just too many other factors affecting the weather, including all sorts of natural climate variations.

A growing body of research is, however, beginning to confirm what many people already believed. While scientists still generally agree that it’s impossible to attribute any individual weather phenomenon solely to climate change they can investigate the extent to which climate change has influenced a given event.

This ability to attribute in this way has broader implications than people being able to say ‘I told you so’. Some legal experts have suggested that in the future, attribution studies could become evidence in cases against governments or private companies for failing to protect property, or public infrastructure, against extreme weather. Indeed oil companies are already being sued over climate change.

Stakeholders, including communities, governments and importantly investors are asking the question of companies – how exposed is your business to the impacts of a changing climate, and what are you doing about it? A range of frameworks are in place to drive transparency, with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures being the latest iteration of a growing trend in corporate disclosure.

With the interest in how companies are managing climate risk only growing, it is becoming increasingly important to understand and value our exposure to climate-driven risks.

"Now, more than 12 years after Katrina, with a growing stack of studies pointing to the link between climate change and damaging weather events, experts are warning that these types of lawsuits may become more commonplace. The idea is that if decisionmakers are aware that climate change can make certain events more frequent or more severe, they may be held legally responsible for failing to prepare for the worst."
Chelsea Harvey for the Scientific American

This insight was written in response to the article ‘Scientists Can Now Blame Individual Natural Disasters on Climate Change’ by Chelsea Harvey which first appeared on scientificamerican.com on 2 January 2018.