The 2018 Japan Heatwave - Attribution Science and the First Provable Tragedy in a Climate-Changed World

In summer 2018, much of East Asia experienced an extreme heat wave that broke records across the region. In Japan, more than 1,000 people died directly from the heat and temperature records were shattered across the entire country. The effects were felt by hundreds of millions of people and caused billions of dollars in economic loss. But, what makes this event unique is that, for the first time, scientists are able to say that it was definitively caused by climate change. 

A new type of climate science called Attribution Science is linking heatwaves other extreme weather events directly to anthropogenic climate change. In a paper released in May 2019, scientists found something shocking: According to the best climate science available, the 2018 heatwave in Japan could not have happened in a world without Climate Change. A heatwave as strong as that was impossible until humans started to emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Those 1,000 deaths may be the first scientifically provable victims of the world to come. 

As emissions and the warming of the globe continue, the effects of climate change are rapidly emerging from the noise. No longer are the effects of climate change something that live in the misty future, they are here today and provably so. The stories of those living in Japan who experienced the heatwave of 2018 are the first stories of people living in the climate-changed world that we will all soon come to know.

The First Undeniable Climate Change Deaths

In 2018 in Japan, more than 1,000 people died during an unprecedented heat wave. In 2019, scientists proved it would have been impossible without global warming.

Attribution Science and Impossible Heatwaves

Attribution science is connecting weather events directly to climate change. I spoke with the two researchers who found that the 2018 Japan Heatwave was only possible because of climate change.