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A Method for Computing the Fraction of Attributable Risk Related to Climate Damages


*Address correspondence to Carlo Jaeger, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegrafenberg A31, 14473 Potsdam, Germany; tel: +49-331-288-2601;


The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on the regulation of CO2 emissions from new motor vehicles(1) shows the need for a robust methodology to evaluate the fraction of attributable risk from such emissions. The methodology must enable decisionmakers to reach practically relevant conclusions on the basis of expert assessments the decisionmakers see as an expression of research in progress, rather than as knowledge consolidated beyond any reasonable doubt.(2,3,4) This article presents such a methodology and demonstrates its use for the Alpine heat wave of 2003. In a Bayesian setting, different expert assessments on temperature trends and volatility can be formalized as probability distributions, with initial weights (priors) attached to them. By Bayesian learning, these weights can be adjusted in the light of data. The fraction of heat wave risk attributable to anthropogenic climate change can then be computed from the posterior distribution. We show that very different priors consistently lead to the result that anthropogenic climate change has contributed more than 90% to the probability of the Alpine summer heat wave in 2003. The present method can be extended to a wide range of applications where conclusions must be drawn from divergent assessments under uncertainty.

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