Climate Science


Scientific data show that global temperatures have been consistently rising since the mid-19th century. Within the scientific community, there is widespread consensus that climate change is occurring because of human-caused changes to the Earth’s atmosphere. In particular, humans are intensifying the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by releasing gases that trap heat energy, including carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. Industrial livestock farming, energy waste, and poor management of peatlands are also major contributors to global warming.

Overall, human release of greenhouse gas emissions leads to a rise in average global temperatures. Atmospheric CO2 is being absorbed by oceans, making them more acidic. Hotter temperatures are warming oceans, as well as melting ice sheets and sea ice. Rising sea levels caused by melting ice are expected to displace coastal populations and force major port cities to either spend billions on adaptation or suffer even greater losses due to flooding and other climate-related disasters.

Globally, changes to the climate will increase the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events. At regional levels, temperature increases can manifest in different ways depending on local factors. There is a strong consensus amongst climate scientists, backed by decades of peer-reviewed research, that human greenhouse gas emissions are leading to unprecedented changes in the Earth’s climate. If emissions exceed a critical ‘tipping point,’ the planet is likely to be on an irreversible course for abrupt or accelerated climate change, with grave risks to humans and ecosystems.

Just as scientific inquiry has allowed for a better understanding of the origins of climate change, scientific models can project the severity of climate-related impacts into the future. The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—widely considered the highest authority on climate science— published a special report on emissions scenarios in 2000. This report has widely been used to assist in climate change analysis, including climate modeling and the assessment of impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. The IPCC also periodically releases comprehensive reports intended to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change. The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

The IPCC’s most recent report, the Fifth Assessment (AR5), outlines scientific and socio-economic information concerning climate change, as well as possibilities for mitigation and adaptation. This installment provides the most comprehensive information on the physical science basis of climate change and the strongest yet warnings about climate change’s impacts of any IPCC report. The third part of the report, which concerns mitigation and adaption, says that the most serious consequences of climate change can still be avoided, but only if world governments and investors work together to support ambitious climate targets while ramping up investments in renewable energy.

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