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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: Can science link extreme weather to climate change?

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Monday, August 9th, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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Some of China’s wealthiest people have gotten creamed by Beijing’s tech crackdown, but it hasn’t deterred ByteDance from reviving plans to go public. Meanwhile, in the construction sector, industry bosses are expecting good times to stick around for a while. Plus, we’ve seen everything from wildfires to intense rain this summer. But can we link any of it directly to global warming?

Camilla Hodgson
What we’re pretty certain of is that climate change is making extreme weather events more common and also more intense. What’s difficult, though, is making a connection between a specific extreme event and climate change.

Marc Filippino
I’m Marc Filippino and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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Beijing has put tech companies through a regulatory firestorm recently. Earlier this year, the Chinese Communist party’s policymakers said they wanted to improve oversight on companies listed overseas. This wreaked havoc on the tech sector. Companies like Tencent, Alibaba and Didi Chuxing saw their share price drop. FT calculations of 20 Chinese billionaires whose holdings are tracked by Bloomberg show that their net worth has dropped by about $80bn since late June. That’s when Didi listed in the US. And days later, China’s cyber security regulator ordered Didi be taken off domestic app stores. But back to the billionaires, Colin Huang, the founder of the shopping site Pinduoduo has been hit with paper losses of almost $16bn. Pony Ma, the founder of Internet giant Tencent, has lost more than $12bn. It wasn’t all bad news for Chinese billionaires, though. There are more than a thousand in the country after all. China’s nine richest auto tycoons and several billionaires in the renewable energy sector have seen their worth jump by double digits.

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But even with Beijing’s regulatory crackdowns, a Chinese tech giant is still planning to go public soon. ByteDance, which is the owner of the extremely popular social media app TikTok, has revived its IPO plans. It’s looking to list in Hong Kong. ByteDance, raised about $5bn in December at a $180bn valuation. It postponed its overseas listing this year, and a source told the FT ByteDance has spent the past few months addressing Chinese regulators’ data security concerns. It’s given authorities more detail on how it stores and manages consumer information. Sources told the FT ByteDance hopes to list in either the fourth quarter of this year or early 2022.

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OK, enough about the Chinese tech sector. Let’s move on to construction. Jan Jenisch is the chief executive of the world’s largest cement producer, Holcim. He told the FT that he sees a boom in global construction that would carry on for years with developed nations stepping up spending on modernising infrastructure. Just look at US President Joe Biden’s proposed $1tn infrastructure package. Now Jenisch isn’t the only one who sees this boon for the construction industry. The CEO of Mexico’s Cemex Fernando González told the FT that the stimulus in advanced economies would also boost cement demand in emerging markets through remittances and trade. One economist said this would lead to a supercycle for construction. He pointed toward a long term shift by governments to lower carbon emissions and big infrastructure projects by governments across roads, rail, water, ports and energy to drive economic growth.

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Whether it’s floods in Germany and China or extreme temperatures in North America, it’s easy to blame the freak weather of the last two months on climate change. Seems like an obvious conclusion to make, right? But is there any scientific evidence to back this up? Camilla Hodgson is the FT’s climate reporter. She’s been looking into this question and she joins me now. Hi, Camilla.

Camilla Hodgson
Hi.

Marc Filippino
So Camilla there’s plenty of scientific evidence that global temperatures are rising and that the ice caps are melting. But how do these developments play into the extreme weather events we’ve seen recently?

Camilla Hodgson
So what’s been well established, what we’re pretty certain of is that climate change is making extreme weather events, things like fires, floods, storms, more common and also more intense in certain parts of the world. And that’s related to the fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and that makes the chance of heavy rain more likely and helps fuel things like storms and hurricanes. What’s difficult, though, is making a connection between a specific extreme event and climate change, because there are lots of different things that contribute to how serious a disaster might end up being.

Marc Filippino
I see. So many of us take for granted that climate change is going to affect our weather. Why is it important to know exactly how and where this is happening?

Camilla Hodgson
Scientists ideally would like to be able to predict which areas of the world specifically are likely to be at risk over the coming years from certain types of events. It’s not a case of forecasting a wildfire in, say, California in 2025. It’s not that specific, but it’s more a case of saying this particular region is going to become more vulnerable to this certain type of event. And that’s useful because it could help governments and societies prepare for what might be coming. So, for example, you could install early flood warning systems or flood barriers or create places where people can cool down during heatwaves, that sort of thing. And it can be difficult without that kind of information to know how to prepare. That was a recent paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which said people tend to prepare for worst-case scenarios based on what has been seen before rather than what’s actually possible in the future.

Marc Filippino
So then how do scientists go about finding this information to prepare properly?

Camilla Hodgson
Scientists who work on extreme weather attribution use climate models to try and understand whether a particular event was made more likely or potentially more severe by climate change, and that involves running lots of different simulations of the world in different sorts of scenarios. So one scenario could be the world, as it was 200 years ago. Another could be the world as it is today. Another could be in the future when things have warmed some more. And they then look at all those simulations and they see how many times extreme weather events occur in certain places and of certain magnitudes of certain types. And they compare then how many times a particular type of event happened in each scenario in an effort to understand whether the overall climate system made a difference to that event occurring or to how intense that event was.

Marc Filippino
Camilla you spoke to the members of the World Weather Attribution initiative, or WWA. This is a team of volunteers founded in 2014. Why isn’t this type of research being better funded at an international level?

Camilla Hodgson
Yeah, a lot of the scientists who do this work who I spoke to told me that there really just isn’t enough funding across the board, and that also means that the predictions aren’t as good as they could be. Funding is important, they said, because computer models are really expensive and running really detailed ones is even more expensive. So there is some frustration, I think, about the lack of funding. Some of them suggested to me it might be the recent focus that we’ve seen on net zero and decarbonisation is stealing the limelight and taking attention from this sort of science, which might have something to do with the lack of funding. And lots of them also said they supported this idea of creating a new international climate modelling centre, which would be funded by different groups, different countries, and it would be a way to pool resources and pool manpower instead of having all these different groups, often based in universities or different research centres, competing for the same pool of money and people.

Marc Filippino
Camilla Hodgson is the FT’s climate reporter. Thanks, Camilla.

Camilla Hodgson
Thank you.

Marc Filippino
You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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