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No Link Between Cyclone Pam and Climate Change

Dr David Whitehouse

Despite what projections there may be for the future, the consensus among experts regarding Cyclone Pam is: there is no clear evidence for a link between the cyclone and climate change.

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The world is shocked by the devastation caused by not quite record breaking Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu. Its President Baldwin Lonsdale said: “We see the level of sea rise … the cyclone seasons, the warm, the rain, all this is affected … this year we have more than in any year … yes, climate change is contributing to this.”

Extreme weather is the stuff of many climate debates. Is our weather more extreme, will it get worse in the future?

In its response to the question Carbon Brief says: “The science on climate change and extreme weather is nuanced, and sometimes hard to navigate.” It isn’t really that complex if one distinguishes between what is known and what is predicted, though even some scientists have difficulty doing this.

Interestingly the BBC creates a new category of tropical storm – the Super Cyclone! On the BBC’s Today programme, (2:28:00) Tim Palmer, professor of climate dynamics and predictability at Oxford University was asked if there was a link between Cyclone Pam and change. His response mixed up the present and the future in a peculiar circularity of logic:

“I think it is entirely consistent to say that these incredibly intense tropical cyclones that we’ve seen – not just Pam that hit Vanuatu, but Haiyan, the one that hit the Philippines in the last winter – …[are]… exactly this type of extreme cyclone predicted by the climate models to increase under climate change, under global warming, so I think it is entirely consistent to say that climate change has played a role.”

So the storms we have seen recently are consistent with the storms predicted in the future by climate models incorporating human influences therefore climate change must have played a role in these current storms!

Very interesting are the comments commissioned by the UK’s Science Media Centre about Cyclone Pam. Many of them do not exactly stick to the point.

Notice all the inconsistencies and unknowns:

* Climate Change might or might not have affected the cyclone, says Dr Kelman.

* Dr Brierley says storms as strong as Pam have become more common even though we have fewer such storms in total.

* Contradicting that we have Dr Betts who says we are not sure if tropical cyclone activity is changing, and if it is, what the cause is.

* Prof Allen says the latest assessment of the IPCC stated explicitly that there is no clear evidence at present for any human-induced increase in tropic-wide cyclone frequency.

* Dr Holloway adds it is not clear whether the risks of a storm like Pam in this region have been changed or will be changed by climate change.

* Dr Klingaman says there is no clear evidence that climate change affected the formation or intensity of Cyclone Pam.

So there you have it, despite what projections there may be for the future, and remember projections are not reality until they have been shown to be accurate, the consensus regarding Cyclone Pam is that there is no clear evidence for a link between it and climate change.

This means that any responsible scientist would not assume such a link exists, as it hasn’t been proven. The answer must not be ‘it’s difficult to say’ – the only scientifically valid answer is ‘there is no link.’