The Law and Science of Climate Change Attribution

134 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2017 Last revised: 7 Apr 2019

See all articles by Michael Burger

Michael Burger

Columbia University - Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

Radley Horton

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University Earth Institute

Jessica Wentz

Columbia University - Sabin Center for Climate Change Law

Date Written: April 5, 2019

Abstract

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of lawsuits seeking to hold governments and private actors accountable for failure to take action on climate change. Climate change attribution science – the ability to detect environmental changes and attribute these to increases in greenhouse gas emissions – plays a central role in many of these lawsuits. Attribution science is rapidly evolving, both in regards to attributing extreme events to climate change and greenhouse gas emissions to particular actors – and so too is its role in the courtroom and in policymaking. Armed with a growing body of evidence linking increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations to specific harmful impacts, plaintiffs are pursuing more ambitious claims against governments and emitters for their contribution to, or failure to take action on, climate change.

This article examines how attribution science is used in litigation and in policymaking, and how litigation and policymaking might influence current and future directions in attribution science. In so doing, the Article indicates where current research factors into various types of climate litigation, and where further work may be most impactful. After a brief Introduction, Part II defines and describes the state of the art in attribution science, articulating core concepts and crafting a vocabulary for law-and-policy audiences to comprehend its methodologies and salience. Part III describes the role that attribution science has played in recent litigation as well as policy-making and planning activities, focusing primarily on examples from the United States but also drawing on international examples. Part IV discusses future directions in the law and science of climate change attribution, addressing questions such as how attribution science can better inform policy-making, planning and litigation; how parties can best utilize attribution science in climate change litigation; and how courts can respond to the realities and limitations of climate attribution science.

Suggested Citation

Burger, Michael and Horton, Radley and Wentz, Jessica, The Law and Science of Climate Change Attribution (April 5, 2019). Forthcoming, Columbia Journal of Environmental Law (January 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3051178

Michael Burger (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Sabin Center for Climate Change Law ( email )

Jerome Greene Hall
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Radley Horton

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University Earth Institute ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Jessica Wentz

Columbia University - Sabin Center for Climate Change Law ( email )

Jerome Greene Hall
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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