The epistemology of climate science and modelling

Causal and explanatory strategies for extreme events and tipping points

Social tipping points and the climate challenge: interdisciplinary perspectives

Causal and explanatory strategies for extreme events and tipping points

One central aspect of the climate challenge resides in the possible occurrence of abrupt changes and extreme events that have a huge societal impact. For instance, cryosphere and circulation tipping points may lead to sea-level rise and collapse of monsoon systems with potential catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions of people within a few centuries. Identifying the possible links between disruptive climate events and climate change, and understanding their causal and explanatory nature are crucial in many ways, for adaptation, policy-making, legal issues (litigation, loss and damage), as well as for enhancing public awareness of non-incremental aspects of climate change. The complexity of the climate system renders the understanding of these causal and explanatory links extremely difficult, and different causal and explanatory strategies can be implemented. In this context, elaborating a conceptually precise framework for causality and explanation is therefore essential.

There is a long tradition on causation and explanation in philosophy, and contemporary philosophy of science has developed conceptual tools that can be very useful in the climate context. This project aims to articulate these tools in order to set up a rigorous conceptual and epistemological framework for understanding the causal and explanatory nature of the possible links between climate change on the one hand and extreme events and tipping points on the other hand.

The first part will develop an interventionist approach (e.g. involving causal modelling methods) to causal (and explanatory) claims in extreme event attribution studies. This conceptually rigorous framework will facilitate the identification and the elaboration of the relevant sort of causal information that is adequate for the purpose under consideration (adaptation, litigation, communication). The second part will investigate the possibilistic and counterfactual methodology (e.g. in terms of storylines) as a way to manage the deep uncertainties related to tipping points. The global Earth system science perspective on tipping points will be critically assessed combining philosophy of science and social science perspectives, in particular when it comes to human and social dimensions of Earth system tipping points.