Scientists Can Now Blame Individual Natural Disasters on Climate Change

Is it – or will it ever become – possible to attribute natural disasters to climate change? The question is attracting growing attention in the scientific literature, but it also deserves great attention in legal research. I remain unpersuaded that science can ever attribute a particular weather event to climate change, let alone the impacts of this event on societies, in abstraction from anything else. But climate change could sometimes be proven to have played a determinant role in creating the conditions where a natural disaster would become much more likely to occur; and this should be sufficient to attribute responsibility.

Thomson v. Minister for Climate Change Issues [2017] NZHC 733 (New Zealand)

Sarah Thomson initiated a judicial review concerning the Government of New Zealand’s response to climate change, which she considered insufficient in the light (among others) of New Zealand’s obligations under international law. Her claims relating to New Zealand’s NDC were dismissed.

In an obiter at para. 38, Mallon J. notes a country’s NDC is not binding under international law. This is doubtful. States have an obligation under article 4, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement, to take measures in view of realizing the objectives of their NDCs. NDCs may also constitute unilateral declarations capable of creating legal obligations.

See NMs. Thomson’s complaint¬†and Mallon J.’ judgment. For a brief analysis, look here.