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Linking local impacts to changes in climate: a guide to attribution

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Assessing past impacts of observed climate change on natural, human and managed systems requires detailed knowledge about the effects of both climatic and other drivers of change, and their respective interaction. Resulting requirements with regard to system understanding and long-term observational data can be prohibitive for quantitative detection and attribution methods, especially in the case of human systems and in regions with poor monitoring records. To enable a structured examination of past impacts in such cases, we follow the logic of quantitative attribution assessments, however, allowing for qualitative methods and different types of evidence. We demonstrate how multiple lines of evidence can be integrated in support of attribution exercises for human and managed systems. Results show that careful analysis can allow for attribution statements without explicit end-to-end modeling of the whole climate-impact system. However, care must be taken not to overstate or generalize the results and to avoid bias when the analysis is motivated by and limited to observations considered consistent with climate change impacts.

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