Climate change and extreme weather events

Just 20 years ago, it was virtually impossible to identify the role played by climate change in a specific extreme weather event such as a heat wave or heavy downpour. However, climate research has made enormous progress in the meantime. Today it is possible to prove that the devastating floods in the Ahr Valley in Germany which claimed the lives of 134 people in July 2021 were made more likely by climate change, namely by a factor between 1.2 and 9.

It is mainly thanks to Friederike Otto that such calculations were available only a few weeks after the catastrophic floods. The climate researcher co-founded and helped advance the relatively new research field of attribution science, which explores how global warming influences particular extreme weather events.

World reputation in science

One thing is certain: climate change increases the intensity and probability of each heat wave. Otto has earned a worldwide reputation for making this knowledge available. Along with climatologist Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, she was named one of the 100 most influential people of 2021 by the American magazine Time.

Together with the Dutchman, Otto founded the World Weather Attribution. The goal of this international research initiative is to quickly publish scientific facts about specific extreme weather events.

Otto’s work is also appreciated in the scientific world. In 2021, the journal “Nature” named her one of the most important researchers in the world, including her in its “Nature’s 10” list, where she is featured as a weather detective. Friederike Otto, born in the German city of Kiel, studied physics before doing a doctorate in philosophy at the Freie Universität Berlin. In her doctoral thesis, she explored scientific theory and climate modelling. Otto has lived and researched in the UK for over ten years and has taken British citizenship. After several years in Oxford, the climatologist now works at Imperial College London.

What motivated Otto to focus on climate change was a desire to fight social injustice. “Climate change increases inequalities,” says Otto, explaining that the advancing climate crisis poses a threat to vulnerable groups in particular, as they may lose their livelihoods or no longer be able to feed themselves due to price increase. In contrast, the wealthy have sufficient resources to adapt. “If we want to adapt to the consequences of climate change, we have to fight against inequalities,” says Otto.

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