Meet the Climate Change Rapid Reaction World Weather Attribution Unit

From Watts Up With That?

Essay by Eric Worrall

Climate scientists have acted to ensure the world receives their narrative as quickly as possible, whenever a severe weather event strikes.

‘I am an optimistic person’: the scientist who studies climate catastrophes

Friederike Otto, a member of the world’s only rapid reaction force of climate scientists, on looking into the apocalypse of extreme weather

Sandra Laville Environment correspondent
Fri 30 Dec 2022 01.30 AEDT

Otto, known as Fredi, and a small team of researchers are the world’s only rapid reaction force of climate scientists. They target extreme weather across the world almost as it happens, reach out to local people on the ground, and carry out deep, rigorous statistical analysis, which is transforming our understanding of how human-caused global heating is affecting the planet and our lives.

Until now, scientists have had to be equivocal about whether a single weather event is linked to global heating. Otto’s work makes the connection between the string of disasters the world is suffering and global heating, much clearer. Her work was recognised internationally in 2021 when she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

The journey from the creation of the World Weather Attribution unit to its current iteration, began with a paper Otto and Oldenborgh wrote on a heatwave in Russia in 2010. It was a classical academic paper, peer reviewed and published long after the event.

This last study drew her up short by the starkness of its findings. “One of the biggest scientific surprises for me this year was the floods in Nigeria because there was such a huge climate change impact,” said Otto. “They were made 80 times more likely as a result of climate change. That makes me think: ‘Oh wow, there is really a lot that we don’t understand in Africa’.”

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Obviously it is critically important to climate science that attribution studies align with news cycles. Otto has been very successful in attracting attention, her World Weather Attribution team made Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2021.