The global average (land and ocean) surface temperature shows a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C in the period 1880 to 2012, based on multiple independently produced datasets. Earth's average surface temperature rose by 7002273890000000000♠0.74±0.18 °C over the period 1906–2005. The rate of warming almost doubled for the last half of that period (7002273279999999999♠0.13±0.03 °C per decade, versus 7002273219999999999♠0.07±0.02 °C per decade). Although the increase of near-surface atmospheric temperature is the measure of global warming often reported in the popular press, most of the additional energy stored in the climate system since 1970 has gone into the oceans. The rest has melted ice and warmed the continents and atmosphere.
The average temperature of the lower troposphere has increased between 0.12 and 0.135 °C (0.216 and 0.243 °F) per decade since 1979, according to satellite temperature measurements. Climate proxies show the temperature to have been relatively stable over the one or two thousand years before 1850, with regionally varying fluctuations such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age.
The warming that is evident in the instrumental temperature record is consistent with a wide range of observations, as documented by many independent scientific groups. Examples include sea level rise, widespread melting of snow and land ice, increased heat content of the oceans, increased humidity, and the earlier timing of spring events, e.g., the flowering of plants. The probability that these changes could have occurred by chance is virtually zero.
Temperature changes vary over the globe. Since 1979, land temperatures have increased about twice as fast as ocean temperatures (7002273399999999999♠0.25 °C per decade against 7002273279999999999♠0.13 °C per decade). Ocean temperatures increase more slowly than land temperatures because of the larger effective heat capacity of the oceans and because the ocean loses more heat by evaporation. Since the beginning of industrialisation the temperature difference between the hemispheres has increased due to melting of sea ice and snow in the North. Average arctic temperatures have been increasing at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world in the past 100 years; however arctic temperatures are also highly variable. Although more greenhouse gases are emitted in the Northern than Southern Hemisphere this does not contribute to the difference in warming because the major greenhouse gases persist long enough to mix between hemispheres.
The thermal inertia of the oceans and slow responses of other indirect effects mean that climate can take centuries or longer to adjust to changes in forcing. One climate commitment study concluded that if greenhouse gases were stabilized at year 2000 levels, surface temperatures would still increase by about one-half degree Celsius, and another found that if they were stabilized at 2005 levels surface warming could exceed a whole degree Celsius. Some of this surface warming will be driven by past natural forcings which are still seeking equilibrium in the climate system. One study using a highly simplified climate model indicates these past natural forcings may account for as much as 64% of the committed 2050 surface warming and their influence will fade with time compared to the human contribution.
Global temperature is subject to short-term fluctuations that overlay long-term trends and can temporarily mask them. The relative stability in surface temperature from 2002 to 2009, which has been dubbed the global warming hiatus by the media and some scientists, is consistent with such an episode. 2015 updates to account for differing methods of measuring ocean surface temperature measurements show a positive trend over the recent decade.
Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000. While record-breaking years attract considerable public interest, individual years are less significant than the overall trend. Some climatologists have criticized the attention that the popular press gives to "warmest year" statistics. In particular, ocean oscillations such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) can cause temperatures of a given year to be abnormally warm or cold for reasons unrelated to the overall trend of climate change. Gavin Schmidt stated "the long-term trends or the expected sequence of records are far more important than whether any single year is a record or not."
The climate system includes a range of feedbacks, which alter the response of the system to changes in external forcings. Positive feedbacks increase the response of the climate system to an initial forcing, while negative feedbacks reduce it.
There are a range of feedbacks in the climate system, including water vapour, changes in ice-albedo (snow and ice cover affect how much the Earth's surface absorbs or reflects incoming sunlight), clouds, and changes in the Earth's carbon cycle (e.g., the release of carbon from soil). The main negative feedback is the energy the Earth's surface radiates into space as infrared radiation. According to the Stefan-Boltzmann law, if the absolute temperature (as measured in kelvins) doubles, radiated energy increases by a factor of 16 (2 to the 4th power).
Feedbacks are an important factor in determining the sensitivity of the climate system to increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Other factors being equal, a higher climate sensitivity means that more warming will occur for a given increase in greenhouse gas forcing. Uncertainty over the effect of feedbacks is a major reason why different climate models project different magnitudes of warming for a given forcing scenario. More research is needed to understand the role of clouds and carbon cycle feedbacks in climate projections.
The IPCC projections previously mentioned span the "likely" range (greater than 66% probability, based on expert judgement) for the selected emissions scenarios. However, the IPCC's projections do not reflect the full range of uncertainty. The lower end of the "likely" range appears to be better constrained than the upper end.
A climate model is a representation of the physical, chemical and biological processes that affect the climate system. Such models are based on scientific disciplines such as fluid dynamics and thermodynamics as well as physical processes such as radiative transfer. The models may be used to predict a range of variables such as local air movement, temperature, clouds, and other atmospheric properties; ocean temperature, salt content, and circulation; ice cover on land and sea; the transfer of heat and moisture from soil and vegetation to the atmosphere; and chemical and biological processes, among others.
Although researchers attempt to include as many processes as possible, simplifications of the actual climate system are inevitable because of the constraints of available computer power and limitations in knowledge of the climate system. Results from models can also vary due to different greenhouse gas inputs and the model's climate sensitivity. For example, the uncertainty in IPCC's 2007 projections is caused by (1) the use of multiple models with differing sensitivity to greenhouse gas concentrations, (2) the use of differing estimates of humanity's future greenhouse gas emissions, (3) any additional emissions from climate feedbacks that were not included in the models IPCC used to prepare its report, i.e., greenhouse gas releases from permafrost.
The models do not assume the climate will warm due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases. Instead the models predict how greenhouse gases will interact with radiative transfer and other physical processes. Warming or cooling is thus a result, not an assumption, of the models.
Clouds and their effects are especially difficult to predict. Improving the models' representation of clouds is therefore an important topic in current research. Another prominent research topic is expanding and improving representations of the carbon cycle.
Models are also used to help investigate the causes of recent climate change by comparing the observed changes to those that the models project from various natural and human causes. Although these models do not unambiguously attribute the warming that occurred from approximately 1910 to 1945 to either natural variation or human effects, they do indicate that the warming since 1970 is dominated by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
The physical realism of models is tested by examining their ability to simulate contemporary or past climates. Climate models produce a good match to observations of global temperature changes over the last century, but do not simulate all aspects of climate. Not all effects of global warming are accurately predicted by the climate models used by the IPCC. Observed Arctic shrinkage has been faster than that predicted. Precipitation increased proportionally to atmospheric humidity, and hence significantly faster than global climate models predict. Since 1990, sea level has also risen considerably faster than models predicted it would.
Anthropogenic forcing has likely contributed to some of the observed changes, including sea level rise, changes in climate extremes (such as the number of warm and cold days), declines in Arctic sea ice extent, glacier retreat, and greening of the Sahara.
During the 21st century, glaciers and snow cover are projected to continue their widespread retreat. Projections of declines in Arctic sea ice vary. Recent projections suggest that Arctic summers could be ice-free (defined as ice extent less than 1 million square km) as early as 2025-2030.
"Detection" is the process of demonstrating that climate has changed in some defined statistical sense, without providing a reason for that change. Detection does not imply attribution of the detected change to a particular cause. "Attribution" of causes of climate change is the process of establishing the most likely causes for the detected change with some defined level of confidence. Detection and attribution may also be applied to observed changes in physical, ecological and social systems.
Changes in regional climate are expected to include greater warming over land, with most warming at high northern latitudes, and least warming over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Future changes in precipitation are expected to follow existing trends, with reduced precipitation over subtropical land areas, and increased precipitation at subpolar latitudes and some equatorial regions. Projections suggest a probable increase in the frequency and severity of some extreme weather events, such as heat waves.
A 2015 study published in Nature Climate Change, states:
Data analysis of extreme events from 1960 till 2010 suggests that droughts and heat waves appear simultaneously with increased frequency. Extremely wet or dry events within the monsoon period have increased since 1980.
The sea level rise since 1993 has been estimated to have been on average 2.6 mm and 2.9 mm per year ± 0.4 mm. Additionally, sea level rise has accelerated from 1995 to 2015. Over the 21st century, the IPCC projects for a high emissions scenario, that global mean sea level could rise by 52–98 cm. The IPCC's projections are conservative, and may underestimate future sea level rise. Other estimates suggest that for the same period, global mean sea level could rise by 0.2 to 2.0 m (0.7–6.6 ft), relative to mean sea level in 1992.
Widespread coastal flooding would be expected if several degrees of warming is sustained for millennia. For example, sustained global warming of more than 2 °C (relative to pre-industrial levels) could lead to eventual sea level rise of around 1 to 4 m due to thermal expansion of sea water and the melting of glaciers and small ice caps. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet could contribute an additional 4 to 7.5 m over many thousands of years. It has been estimated that we are already committed to a sea-level rise of approximately 2.3 metres for each degree of temperature rise within the next 2,000 years.
Warming beyond the 2 °C target would potentially lead to rates of sea-level rise dominated by ice loss from Antarctica. Continued CO2 emissions from fossil sources could cause additional tens of metres of sea level rise, over the next millennia and eventually ultimately eliminate the entire Antarctic ice sheet, causing about 58 metres of sea level rise.
In terrestrial ecosystems, the earlier timing of spring events, as well as poleward and upward shifts in plant and animal ranges, have been linked with high confidence to recent warming. Future climate change is expected to affect particular ecosystems, including tundra, mangroves, coral reefs., and caves. It is expected that most ecosystems will be affected by higher atmospheric CO2 levels, combined with higher global temperatures. Overall, it is expected that climate change will result in the extinction of many species and reduced diversity of ecosystems.
Increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations have led to an increase in ocean acidity. Dissolved CO2 increases ocean acidity, measured by lower pH values. Between 1750 and 2000, surface-ocean pH has decreased by ≈0.1, from ≈8.2 to ≈8.1. Surface-ocean pH has probably not been below ≈8.1 during the past 2 million years. Projections suggest that surface-ocean pH could decrease by an additional 0.3–0.4 units by 2100. Future ocean acidification could threaten coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources of value to society.
Ocean deoxygenation is projected to increase hypoxia by 10%, and triple suboxic waters (oxygen concentrations 98% less than the mean surface concentrations), for each 1 °C of upper ocean warming.
On the timescale of centuries to millennia, the magnitude of global warming will be determined primarily by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. This is due to carbon dioxide's very long lifetime in the atmosphere.
Stabilizing the global average temperature would require large reductions in CO2 emissions, as well as reductions in emissions of other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Emissions of CO2 would need to be reduced by more than 80% relative to their peak level. Even if this were achieved, global average temperatures would remain close to their highest level for many centuries. As of 2016, emissions of CO2 from burning fossil fuels had stopped increasing, but the Guardian reports they need to be "reduced to have a real impact on climate change". Meanwhile, this greenhouse gas continues to accumulate in the atmosphere. Also, CO2 is not the only factor driving climate change. Concentrations of atmospheric methane, another greenhouse gas, rose dramatically between 2006-2016 for unknown reasons. This undermines efforts to combat global warming and there is a risk of an uncontrollable runaway greenhouse effect.
Long-term effects also include a response from the Earth's crust, due to ice melting and deglaciation, in a process called post-glacial rebound, when land masses are no longer depressed by the weight of ice. This could lead to landslides and increased seismic and volcanic activities. Tsunamis could be generated by submarine landslides caused by warmer ocean water thawing ocean-floor permafrost or releasing gas hydrates. Some world regions, such as the French Alps, already show signs of an increase in landslide frequency.
Climate change could result in global, large-scale changes in natural and social systems. Examples include the possibility for the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation to slow- or shutdown, which in the instance of a shutdown would change weather in Europe and North America considerably, ocean acidification caused by increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, and the long-term melting of ice sheets, which contributes to sea level rise.
Some large-scale changes could occur abruptly, i.e., over a short time period, and might also be irreversible. Examples of abrupt climate change are the rapid release of methane and carbon dioxide from permafrost, which would lead to amplified global warming, or the shutdown of thermohaline circulation. Scientific understanding of abrupt climate change is generally poor. The probability of abrupt change for some climate related feedbacks may be low. Factors that may increase the probability of abrupt climate change include higher magnitudes of global warming, warming that occurs more rapidly, and warming that is sustained over longer time periods.
Observed and expected effects on social systems
The effects of climate change on human systems, mostly due to warming or shifts in precipitation patterns, or both, have been detected worldwide. Production of wheat and maize globally has been impacted by climate change. While crop production has increased in some mid-latitude regions such as the UK and Northeast China, economic losses due to extreme weather events have increased globally. There has been a shift from cold- to heat-related mortality in some regions as a result of warming. Livelihoods of indigenous peoples of the Arctic have been altered by climate change, and there is emerging evidence of climate change impacts on livelihoods of indigenous peoples in other regions. Regional impacts of climate change are now observable at more locations than before, on all continents and across ocean regions.
The future social impacts of climate change will be uneven. Many risks are expected to increase with higher magnitudes of global warming. All regions are at risk of experiencing negative impacts. Low-latitude, less developed areas face the greatest risk. A study from 2015 concluded that economic growth (gross domestic product) of poorer countries is much more impaired with projected future climate warming, than previously thought.
A meta-analysis of 56 studies concluded in 2014 that each degree of temperature rise will increase violence by up to 20%, which includes fist fights, violent crimes, civil unrest or wars.
Examples of impacts include:Food: Crop production will probably be negatively affected in low latitude countries, while effects at northern latitudes may be positive or negative. Global warming of around 4.6 °C relative to pre-industrial levels could pose a large risk to global and regional food security.
Health: Generally impacts will be more negative than positive. Impacts include: the effects of extreme weather, leading to injury and loss of life; and indirect effects, such as undernutrition brought on by crop failures.
In small islands and mega deltas, inundation as a result of sea level rise is expected to threaten vital infrastructure and human settlements. This could lead to issues of homelessness in countries with low-lying areas such as Bangladesh, as well as statelessness for populations in countries such as the Maldives and Tuvalu.
Estimates based on the IPCC A1B emission scenario from additional CO2 and CH4 greenhouse gases released from permafrost, estimate associated impact damages by US$43 trillion.
Continued permafrost degradation will likely result in unstable infrastructure in Arctic regions, or Alaska before 2100. Thus, impacting roads, pipelines and buildings, as well as water distribution, and cause slope failures.
Mitigation of climate change are actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or enhance the capacity of carbon sinks to absorb GHGs from the atmosphere. There is a large potential for future reductions in emissions by a combination of activities, including: energy conservation and increased energy efficiency; the use of low-carbon energy technologies, such as renewable energy, nuclear energy, and carbon capture and storage; and enhancing carbon sinks through, for example, reforestation and preventing deforestation. A 2015 report by Citibank concluded that transitioning to a low carbon economy would yield positive return on investments.
Near- and long-term trends in the global energy system are inconsistent with limiting global warming at below 1.5 or 2 °C, relative to pre-industrial levels. Pledges made as part of the Cancún agreements are broadly consistent with having a likely chance (66 to 100% probability) of limiting global warming (in the 21st century) at below 3 °C, relative to pre-industrial levels.
In limiting warming at below 2 °C, more stringent emission reductions in the near-term would allow for less rapid reductions after 2030. Many integrated models are unable to meet the 2 °C target if pessimistic assumptions are made about the availability of mitigation technologies.
Other policy responses include adaptation to climate change. Adaptation to climate change may be planned, either in reaction to or anticipation of climate change, or spontaneous, i.e., without government intervention. Planned adaptation is already occurring on a limited basis. The barriers, limits, and costs of future adaptation are not fully understood.
A concept related to adaptation is adaptive capacity, which is the ability of a system (human, natural or managed) to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences. Unmitigated climate change (i.e., future climate change without efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions) would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.
Environmental organizations and public figures have emphasized changes in the climate and the risks they entail, while promoting adaptation to changes in infrastructural needs and emissions reductions.
Climate engineering (sometimes called geoengineering or climate intervention) is the deliberate modification of the climate. It has been investigated as a possible response to global warming, e.g. by NASA and the Royal Society. Techniques under research fall generally into the categories solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal, although various other schemes have been suggested. A study from 2014 investigated the most common climate engineering methods and concluded they are either ineffective or have potentially severe side effects and cannot be stopped without causing rapid climate change.
Most countries in the world are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The ultimate objective of the Convention is to prevent dangerous human interference of the climate system. As stated in the Convention, this requires that GHG concentrations are stabilized in the atmosphere at a level where ecosystems can adapt naturally to climate change, food production is not threatened, and economic development can proceed in a sustainable fashion. The Framework Convention was agreed in 1992, but since then, global emissions have risen.
During negotiations, the G77 (a lobbying group in the United Nations representing 133 developing nations) pushed for a mandate requiring developed countries to "[take] the lead" in reducing their emissions. This was justified on the basis that: the developed world's emissions had contributed most to the cumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere; per-capita emissions (i.e., emissions per head of population) were still relatively low in developing countries; and the emissions of developing countries would grow to meet their development needs.
This mandate was sustained in the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention, which entered into legal effect in 2005. In ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, most developed countries accepted legally binding commitments to limit their emissions. These first-round commitments expired in 2012. United States President George W. Bush rejected the treaty on the basis that "it exempts 80% of the world, including major population centres such as China and India, from compliance, and would cause serious harm to the US economy."
At the 15th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, held in 2009 at Copenhagen, several UNFCCC Parties produced the Copenhagen Accord. Parties associated with the Accord (140 countries, as of November 2010) aim to limit the future increase in global mean temperature to below 7002275149999999999♠2 °C. The 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16) was held at Cancún in 2010. It produced an agreement, not a binding treaty, that the Parties should take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet a goal of limiting global warming to 7002275149999999999♠2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. It also recognized the need to consider strengthening the goal to a global average rise of 7002274649999999999♠1.5 °C.
There is continuing discussion through published peer-reviewed scientific papers, which are assessed by scientists working in the relevant fields taking part in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The scientific consensus as of 2013 stated in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report is that it "is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century". A 2008 report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences stated that most scientists by then agreed that observed warming in recent decades was primarily caused by human activities increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In 2005 the Royal Society stated that while the overwhelming majority of scientists were in agreement on the main points, some individuals and organizations opposed to the consensus on urgent action needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have tried to undermine the science and work of the IPCC. National science academies have called on world leaders for policies to cut global emissions.
In the scientific literature, there is a strong consensus that global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and that the trend is caused mainly by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. No scientific body of national or international standing disagrees with this view.
The global warming controversy refers to a variety of disputes, substantially more pronounced in the popular media than in the scientific literature, regarding the nature, causes, and consequences of global warming. The disputed issues include the causes of increased global average air temperature, especially since the mid-20th century, whether this warming trend is unprecedented or within normal climatic variations, whether humankind has contributed significantly to it, and whether the increase is completely or partially an artefact of poor measurements. Additional disputes concern estimates of climate sensitivity, predictions of additional warming, and what the consequences of global warming will be.
By 1990, American conservative think tanks had begun challenging the legitimacy of global warming as a social problem. They challenged the scientific evidence, argued that global warming will have benefits, and asserted that proposed solutions would do more harm than good. Some people dispute aspects of climate change science. Organizations such as the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, conservative commentators, and some companies such as ExxonMobil have challenged IPCC climate change scenarios, funded scientists who disagree with the scientific consensus, and provided their own projections of the economic cost of stricter controls. On the other hand, some fossil fuel companies have scaled back their efforts in recent years, or even called for policies to reduce global warming. Global oil companies have begun to acknowledge climate change exists and is caused by human activities and the burning of fossil fuels.
The world public, or at least people in economically advanced regions, became broadly aware of the global warming problem in the late 1980s. Polling groups began to track opinions on the subject, at first mainly in the United States. The longest consistent polling, by Gallup in the US, found relatively small deviations of 10% or so from 1998 to 2015 in opinion on the seriousness of global warming, but with increasing polarization between those concerned and those unconcerned.
The first major worldwide poll, conducted by Gallup in 2008-2009 in 127 countries, found that some 62% of people worldwide said they knew about global warming. In the advanced countries of North America, Europe and Japan, 90% or more knew about it (97% in the U.S., 99% in Japan); in less developed countries, especially in Africa, fewer than a quarter knew about it, although many had noticed local weather changes. Among those who knew about global warming, there was a wide variation between nations in belief that the warming was a result of human activities.
By 2010, with 111 countries surveyed, Gallup determined that there was a substantial decrease since 2007–08 in the number of Americans and Europeans who viewed global warming as a serious threat. In the US, just a little over half the population (53%) now viewed it as a serious concern for either themselves or their families; this was 10 points below the 2008 poll (63%). Latin America had the biggest rise in concern: 73% said global warming is a serious threat to their families. This global poll also found that people are more likely to attribute global warming to human activities than to natural causes, except in the US where nearly half (47%) of the population attributed global warming to natural causes.
A March–May 2013 survey by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press polled 39 countries about global threats. According to 54% of those questioned, global warming featured top of the perceived global threats. In a January 2013 survey, Pew found that 69% of Americans say there is solid evidence that the Earth's average temperature has gotten warmer over the past few decades, up six points since November 2011 and 12 points since 2009.
A 2010 survey of 14 industrialized countries found that skepticism about the danger of global warming was highest in Australia, Norway, New Zealand and the United States, in that order, correlating positively with per capita emissions of carbon dioxide.
In the 1950s, research suggested increasing temperatures, and a 1952 newspaper reported "climate change". This phrase next appeared in a November 1957 report in The Hammond Times which described Roger Revelle's research into the effects of increasing human-caused CO2 emissions on the greenhouse effect, "a large scale global warming, with radical climate changes may result". Both phrases were only used occasionally until 1975, when Wallace Smith Broecker published a scientific paper on the topic, "Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?" The phrase began to come into common use, and in 1976 Mikhail Budyko's statement that "a global warming up has started" was widely reported. Other studies, such as a 1971 MIT report, referred to the human impact as "inadvertent climate modification", but an influential 1979 National Academy of Sciences study headed by Jule Charney followed Broecker in using global warming for rising surface temperatures, while describing the wider effects of increased CO2 as climate change.
In 1986 and November 1987, NASA climate scientist James Hansen gave testimony to Congress on global warming. There were increasing heatwaves and drought problems in the summer of 1988, and when Hansen testified in the Senate on 23 June he sparked worldwide interest. He said: "global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and the observed warming." Public attention increased over the summer, and global warming became the dominant popular term, commonly used both by the press and in public discourse.
In a 2008 NASA article on usage, Erik M. Conway defined global warming as "the increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases", while climate change was "a long-term change in the Earth’s climate, or of a region on Earth." As effects such as changing patterns of rainfall and rising sea levels would probably have more impact than temperatures alone, he considered global climate change a more scientifically accurate term, and like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the NASA website would emphasize this wider context.