Scientific breakthrough could make polluters pay

A scientific breakthrough could allow Pacific countries hit by climate change induced cyclones to claim compensation from the wealthier polluting nations that cause them. 

A new “event attribution” method, unveiled this week by New Zealand scientists, allows forecasters to determine how much of a cyclone’s intensity has been caused by climate change. 

“Most of the effects of climate change [in the Pacific region] have been through the frequency and intensity of cyclones,” Professor Ilan Noy from the University of Wellington told the Samoa Observer on Saturday.

“We can now identify the change of frequency and intensity of specific cyclones due to global warming. 

“Let’s say you take a specific [hypothetical] cyclone and you can say 50 per cent of [its intensity] is due to climate change. 

“If that cyclone impacted Samoa and the damage [bill] was $300 million, you could conclude half the bill has been caused by polluting countries. 

“Then you can go after those who are responsible.”

The new method is the first time scientists have been able to analyse storm fronts in such detail.

It creates new possibilities for levelling the playing field between wealthier nations which emit the most carbon and Pacific states, which have low emissions but bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. 

The research was developed in America, Professor Noy said, but is currently being expanded into the Pacific. 

“The major stumbling block here is the science,” he said. 

“There is an absence of climate modelling.

“We are working here in [New Zealand] with the National Institute for Water and Air (N.I.W.A.) to do modelling of Pacific Cyclones.”

The N.I.W.A. is understood to have made approaches for cooperative data gathering with other meteorological services around the region. 

Island states could potentially seek legal recourse through civil suits in domestic or international courts or arbitration via the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Professor Noy says the research is in its early phase and with more data it could be used to quantify climate change’s impact on a wider range of damaging impacts felt by Pacific states. 

The new method was developed by Professor Noy in conjunction with Professor Dave Frame, Director of Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute.

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