Climate Change 2001:
Working Group I: The Scientific Basis
Other reports in this collection

Anthropogenic aerosols are short-lived and mostly produce negative radiative forcing.

Natural factors have made small contributions to radiative forcing over the past century.

Confidence in the ability of models to project future climate has increased.


Figure 4: Simulating the Earth's temperature variations, and comparing the results to measured changes, can provide insight into the underlying causes of the major changes.

A climate model can be used to simulate the temperature changes that occur both from natural and anthropogenic causes. The simulations represented by the band in (a) were done with only natural forcings: solar variation and volcanic activity. Those encompassed by the band in (b) were done with anthropogenic forcings: greenhouse gases and an estimate of sulphate aerosols, and those encompassed by the band in (c) were done with both natural and anthropogenic forcings included. From (b), it can be seen that inclusion of anthropogenic forcings provides a plausible explanation for a substantial part of the observed temperature changes over the past century, but the best match with observations is obtained in (c) when both natural and anthropogenic factors are included. These results show that the forcings included are sufficient to explain the observed changes, but do not exclude the possibility that other forcings may also have contributed. The bands of model results presented here are for four runs from the same model. Similar results to those in (b) are obtained with other models with anthropogenic forcing. [Based upon Chapter 12, Figure 12.7]
Complex physically-based climate models are required to provide detailed estimates of feedbacks and of regional features. Such models cannot yet simulate all aspects of climate (e.g., they still cannot account fully for the observed trend in the surface-troposphere temperature difference since 1979) and there are particular uncertainties associated with clouds and their interaction with radiation and aerosols. Nevertheless, confidence in the ability of these models to provide useful projections of future climate has improved due to their demonstrated performance on a range of space and time-scales.

There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

The SAR concluded: "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate". That report also noted that the anthropogenic signal was still emerging from the background of natural climate variability. Since the SAR, progress has been made in reducing uncertainty, particularly with respect to distinguishing and quantifying the magnitude of responses to different external influences. Although many of the sources of uncertainty identified in the SAR still remain to some degree, new evidence and improved understanding support an updated conclusion.

In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely7 to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.

Furthermore, it is very likely7 that the 20th century warming has contributed significantly to the observed sea level rise, through thermal expansion of sea water and widespread loss of land ice. Within present uncertainties, observations and models are both consistent with a lack of significant acceleration of sea level rise during the 20th century.



Other reports in this collection