16 May 2011

On Attribution, A Response to Parmesan et al.

In the current issue of Nature Climate Change I have a correspondence in response to the commentary by Camille Parmesan and colleagues on attribution of specific biodiversity outcomes to human caused climate change. They argued:
The biological world is responding rapidly to a changing climate, but attempts to attribute individual impacts to rising greenhouse gases are ill-advised.
Keith Kloor had a nice discussion of that piece when it came out.

In my response, I focus on the underlying political incentives for such claims of attribution:
Parmesan and co-authors1 offer a welcome tonic to overstated claims that attribute various localized changes in biological systems to human-induced climate change. However, their Commentary is off target when it lays blame for the misguided focus on attribution on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “effectively yield[ing] to the contrarians’ inexhaustible demands for more ‘proof.’” As compelling as battle with the sceptics seems to be in virtually every aspect of the climate issue, the overstated role of attribution in the climate debate has a far more prosaic origin in the fundamental design of the Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Read the rest of my response here in PDF.

If you are interested in learning more about how the political context of climate policy creates incentives for claims of attribution, and how this hurts climate policy, please see Chapter 6 in The Climate Fix as well as these two papers:

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (2004), What is climate change?. Issues in Science and Technology 20 (4) 31-34.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. (2005), Misdefining ‘‘climate change’’: consequences for science and action. Environmental Science & Policy 8 (6) 548-561.