‘High possibility’ climate change influenced devastating Philippines floods

By Chelsea Harvey | 03/01/2024 06:23 AM EST

But uncertainties in scientists’ climate models have made it impossible to say for sure.

Rescuers carry the body of a landslide victim in the southern Philippines.

Rescuers carry the body of a landslide victim in the southern Philippines on Jan. 19. The island nation was hit by a series of heavy rain events at the start of the year. Municipality of Monkayo via AP

Climate change likely played at least some role in a series of devastating floods and landslides that swept through the southern Philippines at the end of January, scientists say.

Uncertainties in their climate models have made it impossible — for now — to say for sure. Computer model simulations were unable to reproduce the region’s extreme rainfall trends, suggesting that there’s been no change in precipitation driven by climate change. It’s possible that the models may not be adequately capturing certain atmospheric circulation patterns, although the exact reasons are still unclear.

But real-life observations suggest that heavy winter rainfall events in the Philippines are growing more likely and more intense over time. And while there are high uncertainties associated with these observations — partly stemming from a shortage of high-quality weather station data in the region — scientists can’t identify any other factors that might be driving such strong precipitation trends.


“Therefore, there is a high possibility that climate change is at least one of the drivers of the observed trend,” said Mariam Zachariah, a research assistant at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change, in a press briefing Thursday. “But we cannot quantify it with the available data at the moment.”