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Article | WTW Research Network Newsletter

WRN research fellows give testimony to Congress at the U.S. House of Representatives

By Geoffrey Saville | December 19, 2019

Scientists from Columbia University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research were invited to testify to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in September, in a hearing entitled “Understanding, forecasting and communicating extreme weather in a changing climate”.
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In September this 2019, a hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives was convened by the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, entitled “ Understanding, forecasting, and communicating extreme weather in a changing climate”. Of the five learned speakers who gave testimony, two were active WRN fellows. Dr. James Done (Project Scientist III from  Capacity Center for Climate & Weather Extremes at the  National Center for Atmospheric Research), and Prof. Adam Sobel (Director and Chief Scientist, Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate, Columbia University) sat on the panel to explain to Congress their research impact, goals and outreach to address the utilisation of the latest science in manage risk from extremes of weather and climate.

James highlighted some of the work from his department at NCAR, including his interactions with the insurance industry via the WRN, emphasising the significance of the impact of climate change on extreme weather. He described how the research community has detected the influence of climate change on deadly heatwaves and floods, and that further changes to these and other extremes of weather can be expected. These extreme events create devastation to the natural world and physical environment but also have long lasting repercussions for social systems. He stressed the importance of accurate and timely short-term forecasts and robust risk management strategies to deal with the rare events. A disaster is a function of an unexpected event and a lack of preparedness. James’ testimony calls for deeper integration of science and practice is needed, and, through initiatives like the WRN, there can be effective mechanisms to choose between the implementation of improvements to our societal and business resilience, or facing ever-greater disasters.

Adam’s testimony covered three main themes: He gave a brief overview of the relationship of different extreme weather events to climate change; he highlighted some of the complexities of the relationship between hurricanes and climate, sources of uncertainty, and the challenges in communicating and acting on our understanding of the risks they pose. Adam also gave recommendations for future research, to include methods to expand the capabilities of catastrophe modeling. His testimony was based on his deep knowledge and experience of attribution science (understanding the influence of climate change trends on extreme events) from his research and peer-reviewed literature.

Evidence based oversight

Along with three other experts from the Universities of Georgia, Oklahoma and Washington, the hearing provided the House of Representatives with a depth of knowledge on forecasting and risk assessment for extreme weather events in a changing climate. In the context of policy making, this scientific base of evidence can inform strategies to increase the resilience of communities, businesses and property to extreme events, and will require collaboration across the public and private sectors, where techniques used in the insurance industry can be developed alongside public initiatives. The research undertaken by the WRN helps colleagues at Willis Towers Watson provide deep insights in to extreme risk based on the latest science, while at the same time, as this hearing shows, has broader societal importance in developing policies to protect lives and livelihoods in an uncertain future.

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