Science & Environment

Climate concern 'linked to floods'

Incessant storms brought a barrage of wet weather to the UK in the winter of 2013/14 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The winter of 2013/14 was the wettest on record in the UK

Public belief in the reality of climate change has risen in Britain, partly because of the 2013 winter floods, according to a report.

Concern has almost returned to the high levels reported in 2005, say University of Cardiff researchers.

Britons named climate change as a major issue facing the UK alongside crime and education in a national survey.

Many see climate change as contributing at least in part to floods, especially when they have been affected directly.

However, while there is evidence that extreme weather events are becoming more common, scientists say it is not possible to attribute individual weather events to climate change.

The storms that began in October 2013 forced many from their homes and made the 2013-14 winter the wettest on record.

More than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded and many rivers in southern England reached their highest ever recorded levels.

Image caption Concern about climate change

A year on, researchers surveyed 1,000 people across the UK about their attitudes to climate change and the floods.

A follow-up study of 995 people was conducted in five flood-affected areas of England and Wales, including Dawlish, Gloucester, Aberystwyth, Hull and along the flooded part of the Thames.

Almost 9 in 10 people said they acknowledged the existence of climate change, with most believing this was caused mainly or partly by human activity.

And 11% of people saw climate change as one of the top three issues currently facing the UK, with similar proportions naming crime (14%) and education (12%).

Meanwhile, three quarters of respondents said they had personally noticed signs of climate change during their lifetime, including changing weather patterns, seasons or extreme weather.

Professor Nick Pidgeon of the University of Cardiff, who led the research, said it was clear that people had begun to make links between flooding and climate change, particularly among those with direct experience.

"We have found, although we could only partly attribute that potentially to the flooding, that belief in climate change has gone up in this particular survey compared to surveys we've done over the last five years or so, and that is a particularly significant result."

He said the work added to a number of studies looking at the influence of extreme weather events on people's views on climate change.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Flooded homes in UK

"Although it's methodologically complex to establish this link the evidence is increasing that there has been some effect of these events on people's views on climate change," he said.

"Effectively, people are joining the dots between the evidence they're getting - they're starting to construct a narrative which links extreme weather to climate change in the future."

Commenting on the report, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: "The UK public are rightly concerned about climate change and clearly want us to take action.

"We are leading the world on tackling climate change, attracting billions of new investment to move to a low carbon economy at home and pushing on the global stage for ambitious carbon cuts in Paris this year, including successfully championing at least a 40% reduction in EU emissions by 2030."

Attribution matters

Scientists say that it is difficult to attribute single weather events to climate change. However, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the UK floods were one in a series of extreme events in 2014 that were consistent with the predictions of climate science.

Prof Myles Allen of Oxford University is part of the climateprediction.net. project working on attribution of extreme weather to climate change.

"When an event has been made more likely by climate change, but still had some chance of occurring anyway (as seems to have been the case for last winter's floods), then is it right to say it was caused by climate change?" he asked.

"Not in the sense that climate change was the only thing that mattered, but yes in the sense that climate change was a factor.

"Attribution matters because if we're going to ask members of the public to do something about climate change, then the least we can do is be clear about what climate change is doing to them.

"And many of the most serious impacts of climate change today are only manifest through changing probabilities of extreme weather events. "

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