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Current rise in Earth's average temperature and its effects
Average global temperatures from 2010 to 2019 compared to a baseline average from 1951 to 1978. Source: NASA.
Climate change includes both the global warming driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century the rate of human impact on Earth's climate system and the global scale of that impact have been unprecedented.
Observed temperature from NASA versus the 1850-1900 average as a pre-industrial baseline. The main driver for increased global temperatures in the industrial era is human activity, with natural forces adding variability.
Many of these effects are already observed at the current level of warming, which is about 1.1 °C (2.0 °F). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a series of reports that project significant increases in these impacts as warming continues to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) and beyond. Under the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to keep warming "well under 2.0 °C (3.6 °F)" by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, under those pledges, global warming would reach about 2.8 °C (5.0 °F) by the end of the century, and current policies will result in about 3.0 °C (5.4 °F) of warming. Limiting warming to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) would require halving emissions by 2030, then reaching near-zero levels by 2050.
Global surface temperature reconstruction over the last millennia using proxy data from tree rings, corals, and ice cores in blue. Observational data is from 1880 to 2019.
NASA data shows that land surface temperatures have increased faster than ocean temperatures.
Multiple independently produced instrumental datasets show that the climate system is warming, with the 2009-2018 decade being 0.93 ± 0.07 °C (1.67 ± 0.13 °F) warmer than the pre-industrial baseline (1850-1900). Currently, surface temperatures are rising by about 0.2 °C (0.36 °F) per decade. Since 1950, the number of cold days and nights has decreased, and the number of warm days and nights has increased. Historical patterns of warming and cooling, like the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age, were not as synchronous across regions as current warming, but may have reached temperatures as high as those of the late-20th century in a limited set of regions. There have been prehistorical episodes of global warming, such as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. However, the observed rise in temperature and concentrations has been so rapid that even abrupt geophysical events that took place in Earth's history do not approach current rates.
Climate proxy records show that natural variations offset the early effects of the Industrial Revolution, so there was little net warming between the 18th century and the mid-19th century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has adopted the baseline reference period 1850-1900 as an approximation of pre-industrial global mean surface temperature, when thermometer records began to provide global coverage.
While the common measure of global warming is near-surface atmospheric temperature changes, those measurements are reinforced with a wide range of other types of observations. There has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation, melting of snow and land ice, and increased atmospheric humidity. Flora and fauna are also behaving in a manner consistent with warming; for instance, plants are flowering earlier in spring. Another key indicator is the cooling of the upper atmosphere, which demonstrates that greenhouse gases are trapping heat near the Earth's surface and preventing it from radiating into space.
Although record-breaking years attract considerable media attention, individual years are less significant than the longer global temperature trend. An example of a shorter episode is the slower rate of surface temperature increase from 1998 to 2012, which was labeled the "global warming hiatus". Throughout this period, ocean heat storage continued to progress steadily upwards, and in subsequent years, surface temperatures have spiked upwards. The slower pace of warming can be attributed to a combination of natural fluctuations, reduced solar activity, and increased reflection of sunlight by particles from volcanic eruptions.
Global warming refers to global averages, with the amount of warming varying by region. Patterns of warming are independent of the locations of greenhouse gas emissions, because the gases persist long enough to diffuse across the planet; however, localized black carbon deposits on snow and ice do contribute to Arctic warming.
Since the pre-industrial period, global average land temperatures have increased almost twice as fast as global average surface temperatures. This is because of the larger heat capacity of oceans, and because oceans lose more heat by evaporation. Over 90% of the additional energy in the climate system over the last 50 years has been stored in the ocean, warming it. The remainder of the additional energy has melted ice and warmed the continents and the atmosphere. The ocean heat uptake drives thermal expansion which has contributed to observed sea level rise.
The Northern Hemisphere and North Pole have warmed much faster than the South Pole and Southern Hemisphere. The Northern Hemisphere not only has much more land, but also more snow area and sea ice, because of how the land masses are arranged around the Arctic Ocean. As these surfaces flip from reflecting a lot of light to being dark after the ice has melted, they start absorbing more heat. The Southern Hemisphere already had little sea ice in summer before it started warming.Arctic temperatures have increased and are predicted to continue to increase during this century at over twice the rate of the rest of the world. Melting of glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic disrupts ocean circulation, including a weakened Gulf Stream, causing increased warming in some areas.
Attribution of climate change is the effort to scientifically show which mechanisms are responsible for observed changes in Earth's climate. To determine anthropogenic attribution, known internal climate variability and natural external forcings need to be ruled out. Therefore, a key approach is to use computer modelling of the climate system to determine unique "fingerprints" for all potential causes. By comparing these fingerprints with observed patterns and evolution of climate change, and the observed history of the forcings, the causes of the observed changes can be determined. For example, solar forcing can be ruled out as major cause because its fingerprint is warming in the entire atmosphere, and only the lower atmosphere has warmed, which is what is expected from greenhouse gases (which trap heat energy radiating from the surface).Attribution of recent climate change shows that the primary cause is greenhouse gases, and secondarily land-use changes, and aerosols and soot.
concentrations over the last 800,000 years as measured from ice cores (blue/green) and directly (black)
The Earth absorbs sunlight, then radiates it as heat. Some of this infrared radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and because they re-emit it in all directions part of the heat is trapped on Earth instead of escaping into space. Before the Industrial Revolution, naturally-occurring amounts of greenhouse gases caused the air near the surface to be about 33 °C (59 °F) warmer than it would have been in their absence.Without the Earth's atmosphere, the Earth's average temperature would be well below the freezing point of water. While water vapour (~50%) and clouds (~25%) are the biggest contributors to the greenhouse effect, they increase as a function of temperature and are therefore considered feedbacks. On the other hand, concentrations of gases such as (~20%), ozone and nitrous oxide are not temperature-dependent, and are hence considered external forcings. Ozone acts as a greenhouse gas in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, the troposphere (as opposed to the stratospheric ozone layer). Furthermore, ozone is highly reactive and interacts with other greenhouse gases and aerosols.
Human activity since the Industrial Revolution, mainly extracting and burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These increases in levels of gases such as , methane, tropospheric ozone, CFCs, and nitrous oxide have increased radiative forcing. In 2018, the concentrations of and methane had increased by about 45% and 160%, respectively, since 1750. In 2013, CO2 readings taken at the world's primary benchmark site in Mauna Loa surpassed 400 ppm for the first time (normal pre-industrial levels were ~270ppm). These levels are much higher than they have been at any time during the last 800,000 years, the period for which reliable data have been collected from air trapped in ice cores. Less direct geological evidence indicates that values have not been this high for millions of years.
The Global Carbon Project shows how additions to since 1880 have been caused by different sources ramping up one after another.
From a consumption standpoint, the dominant sources of global 2010 emissions were: food and human waste (34%), thermal comfort, washing, and lighting (26%); freight, travel, commuting, and communication (25%); and building construction (15%). These emissions take into account the embodied fossil fuel energy in manufacturing materials including metals (e.g. steel, aluminum), concrete, glass, and plastic, which are largely used in buildings, infrastructure, and transportation. From a production standpoint, the primary sources of global greenhouse gas emissions are estimated as: electricity and heat (25%), agriculture and forestry (24%), industry and manufacturing (21%), transport (14%), and buildings (6%).
Despite the contribution of deforestation to greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth's land surface, particularly its forests, remain a significant carbon sink for . Natural processes, such as carbon fixation in the soil and photosynthesis, more than offset the greenhouse gas contributions from deforestation. The land-surface sink is estimated to remove about 11 billion tonnes of annually from the atmosphere, or about 29% of global emissions. The ocean also serves as a significant carbon sink via a two-step process. First, dissolves in the surface water. Afterwards, the ocean's overturning circulation distributes it deep into the ocean's interior, where it accumulates over time as part of the carbon cycle (changing the ocean's chemistry). Over the last two decades, the world's oceans have absorbed 20 to 30% of emitted . The strength of both the land and ocean sinks increases as levels in the atmosphere rise. In this respect they act as suppressing feedbacks in global warming.
Land surface change
Humans change the Earth's surface mainly to create more agricultural land. Today, agriculture takes up 34% of Earth's land area, while 26% is forests, and 30% is uninhabitable (glaciers, deserts, etc.). The amount of forested land continues to decrease, largely due to conversion to cropland in the tropics. This deforestation is the most significant aspect of land surface change affecting global warming. The main causes of deforestation are: permanent land-use change from forest to agricultural land producing products such as beef and palm oil (27%), logging to produce forestry/forest products (26%), short term shifting cultivation (24%), and wildfires (23%).
In addition to affecting greenhouse gas concentrations, land-use changes affect global warming through a variety of other chemical and physical mechanisms. Changing the type of vegetation in a region affects the local temperature, by changing how much of the sunlight gets reflected back into space (albedo), and how much heat is lost by evaporation. For instance, the change from a dark forest to grassland makes the surface lighter, causing it to reflect more sunlight. Deforestation can also contribute to changing temperatures by affecting the release of aerosols and other chemical compounds that influence clouds, and by changing wind patterns (when the land surface presents different obstructions to wind). In tropic and temperate areas the net effect is to produce a significant warming, while at latitudes closer to the poles a gain of albedo (as forest is replaced by snow cover) leads to an overall cooling effect. Globally, these effects are estimated to have led to a slight cooling, dominated by an increase in surface albedo.
In addition to their direct effects (scattering and absorbing solar radiation), aerosols have indirect effects on the Earth's radiation budget. Sulfate aerosols act as cloud condensation nuclei and thus lead to clouds that have more and smaller cloud droplets. These clouds reflect solar radiation more efficiently than clouds with fewer and larger droplets. This effect also causes droplets to be more uniform in size, which reduces the growth of raindrops and makes clouds more reflective to incoming sunlight. Indirect effects of aerosols are the largest uncertainty in radiative forcing.
While aerosols typically limit global warming by reflecting sunlight, black carbon in soot that falls on snow or ice can contribute to global warming. Not only does this increase the absorption of sunlight, it also increases melting and sea-level rise. Limiting new black carbon deposits in the Arctic could reduce global warming by 0.2 °C by 2050.
As the Sun is the Earth's primary energy source, changes in incoming sunlight directly affect the climate system.Solar irradiance has been measured directly by satellites, and indirect measurements are available from the early 1600s. There has been no upward trend in the amount of the Sun's energy reaching the Earth, so it cannot be responsible for the current warming.Explosive volcanic eruptions represent the largest natural forcing over the industrial era. When the eruption is sufficiently strong (with sulfur dioxide reaching the stratosphere) sunlight can be partially blocked for a couple of years, with a temperature signal lasting about twice as long. In the industrial era, volcanic activity has had negligible impacts on global temperature change trends.
Physical climate models are unable to reproduce the rapid warming observed in recent decades when taking into account only variations in solar output and volcanic activity. Further evidence for greenhouse gases being the cause of recent climate change come from measurements showing the warming of the lower atmosphere (the troposphere), coupled with the cooling of the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere). If solar variations were responsible for the observed warming, warming of both the troposphere and the stratosphere would be expected, but that has not been the case.
Climate change feedback
Sea ice reflects 50 to 70 percent of incoming solar radiation while the dark ocean surface only reflects 6 percent, so melting sea ice is a positive feedback.
As air gets warmer, it can hold more moisture. After an initial warming due to emissions of greenhouse gases, the atmosphere will hold more water. As water is a potent greenhouse gas, this further heats the climate: the water-vapour feedback. If cloud cover increases, more sunlight will be reflected back into space, cooling the planet. If clouds become more high and thin, then clouds can act more as an insulator, reflecting heat from below back downwards and warming the planet. Overall, the net cloud feedback over the industrial era has probably exacerbated temperature rise.
The reduction of snow cover and sea ice in the Arctic reduces the albedo of the Earth's surface. More of the Sun's energy is now absorbed in these regions, contributing to Arctic amplification, which has caused Arctic temperatures to increase at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world; this is the ice-albedo feedback. Arctic amplification is also melting permafrost, which releases methane and into the atmosphere as another positive feedback.
Roughly half of each year's emissions have been absorbed by plants on land and in oceans. and an extended growing season have stimulated plant growth, making the land carbon cycle a balancing feedback. Climate change also increases droughts and heat waves that inhibit plant growth, which makes it uncertain that this balancing feedback will persist in the future. Soils contain large quantities of carbon and may release some when they heat up. As more and heat are absorbed by the ocean, it acidifies, its circulation changes and phytoplankton takes up less carbon, decreasing the rate at which the ocean absorbs atmospheric carbon. Climate change can also increase methane emissions from wetlands, marine and freshwater systems, and permafrost.
Future warming and the carbon budget
CMIP5 average of climate model projections for 2081-2100 relative to 1986-2005, under low and high emission scenarios.
Future warming depends on the strengths of climate feedbacks and on emissions of greenhouse gases. The former are often estimated using climate models. A climate model is a representation of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that affect the climate system. Models also include changes in the Earth's orbit, historical changes in the Sun's activity, and volcanic forcing. Computer models attempt to reproduce and predict the circulation of the oceans, the annual cycle of the seasons, and the flows of carbon between the land surface and the atmosphere. There are more than two dozen scientific institutions that develop major climate models. Models project different future temperature rises for given emissions of greenhouse gases; they also do not fully agree on the strength of different feedbacks on climate sensitivity and magnitude of inertia of the climate system.
The physical realism of models is tested by examining their ability to simulate contemporary or past climates. Past models have underestimated the rate of Arctic shrinkage and underestimated the rate of precipitation increase. Sea level rise since 1990 was underestimated in older models, but now agrees well with observations. The 2017 United States-published National Climate Assessment notes that "climate models may still be underestimating or missing relevant feedback processes".
The four RCPs, including and all forcing agents' atmospheric -equivalents.
A subset of climate models add societal factors to a simple physical climate model. These models simulate how population, economic growth, and energy use affect--and interact with--the physical climate. With this information, these models can produce scenarios of how greenhouse gas emissions may vary in the future. This output is then used as input for physical climate models to generate climate change projections. In some scenarios emissions continue to rise over the century, while others have reduced emissions. Fossil fuel resources are too abundant for shortages to be relied on to limit carbon emissions in the 21st century. Emissions scenarios can be combined with modelling of the carbon cycle to predict how atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases might change in the future. According to these combined models, by 2100 the atmospheric concentration of CO2 could be as low as 380 or as high as 1400 ppm, depending on the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP) and the mitigation scenario.
The remaining carbon emissions budget is determined by modelling the carbon cycle and the climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases. According to the IPCC, global warming can be kept below 1.5 °C with a two-thirds chance if emissions after 2018 do not exceed 420 or 570 gigatonnes of depending on the choice of the measure of global temperature. This amount corresponds to 10 to 13 years of current emissions. There are high uncertainties about the budget; for instance, it may be 100 gigatonnes of smaller due to methane release from permafrost and wetlands.
Historical sea level reconstruction and projections up to 2100 published in January 2017 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
The environmental effects of climate change are broad and far-reaching, effecting oceans, ice, and weather. Changes may occur gradually or rapidly. Evidence for these effects comes from studying climate change in the past, from modelling, and from modern observations.
Global sea level is rising as a consequence of glacial melt, melt of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, and thermal expansion. Between 1993 and 2017, the rise increased over time, averaging 3.1 ± 0.3 mm per year. Over the 21st century, the IPCC projects that in a very high emissions scenario the sea level could rise by 61-110 cm. Increased ocean warmth is undermining and threatening to unplug Antarctic glacier outlets, risking a large melt of the ice sheet and the possibility of a 2 meter sea level rise by 2100 under high emissions.
The long-term effects of climate change include further ice melt, ocean warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. On the timescale of centuries to millennia, the magnitude of climate change will be determined primarily by anthropogenic emissions. This is due to 's long atmospheric lifetime. Oceanic uptake is slow enough that ocean acidification will continue for hundreds to thousands of years. These emissions are estimated to have prolonged the current interglacial period by at least 100,000 years. Because the great mass of glaciers and ice caps depressed the Earth's crust, another long-term effect of ice melt and deglaciation is the gradual rising of landmasses, a process called post-glacial rebound. Sea level rise will continue over many centuries, with an estimated rise of 2.3 metres per degree Celsius (4.2 ft/°F) after 2000 years.
Nature and wildlife
Recent warming has driven many terrestrial and freshwater species poleward and towards higher altitudes. Higher atmospheric levels and an extended growing season have resulted in global greening, whereas heatwaves and drought have reduced ecosystem productivity in some regions. The future balance of these opposing effects is unclear. Climate change has contributed to the expansion of drier climate zones, such as the expansion of deserts in the subtropics. Without substantial actions to reduce the rate of climate change, land-based ecosystems risk major shifts in their composition and structure. Overall, it is expected that climate change will result in the extinction of many species and reduced diversity of ecosystems.
The oceans have heated more slowly than the land, but plants and animals in the ocean have migrated towards the colder poles as fast as or faster than species on land. Just as on land, heat waves in the ocean occur more frequently due to climate change, with harmful effects found on a wide range of organisms such as corals, kelp, and seabirds. Ocean acidification threatens damage to coral reefs, fisheries, protected species, and other natural resources of value to society. Hypoxic ocean dead zones driven by climate change and eutrophication cause water discolouration and foam accumulation, anoxia, contamination of seafood with toxins, disruption of food webs and massive large-scale mortality of marine biota. Coastal ecosystems are under particular stress, with almost half of wetlands having disappeared as a consequence of climate change and other human impacts.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Human impacts include both the direct effects of extreme weather, leading to injury and loss of life, as well as indirect effects, such as undernutrition brought on by crop failures. Various infectious diseases are more easily transmitted in a warmer climate, such as dengue fever, which affects children most severely, and malaria. Young children are the most vulnerable to food shortages, and together with older people, to extreme heat. The WHO has classified human health impacts from climate change as the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century.
Between 1981 and 2010 climate change decreased global mean yields of maize, wheat, and soybeans by 4.1, 1.8 and 4.5%, respectively, relative to preindustrial climate. Increased global temperatures relative to late 20th century levels pose further risks to global and regional food security.Crop production will probably be negatively affected in low-latitude countries, while effects at northern latitudes may be positive or negative. Each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature could, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6.0%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1%. Up to an additional 183 million people worldwide, particularly those with lower incomes, are at risk of hunger as a consequence of these impacts. Regions dependent on glacier water, regions that are already dry, and small islands are also at increased risk of water stress due to climate change.
The effects of warming on ocean productivity have already impacted the growth, reproduction, and survival of fish stocks globally. Recent analyses of worldwide stocks suggest that the maximum catch potential has decreased by over 4% since 1930, although there is significant geographic variability in this trend, with polar stocks showing an increase. Even under more optimistic climate change scenarios, global catch potential is projected to further decline 4-8% by mid century, with growth in the Arctic Ocean being the exception.
Climate change has likely already increased global economic inequality, and is projected to continue doing so. Most of the severe impacts are expected in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, where existing poverty is already exacerbated. The World Bank estimates that climate change could drive over 120 million people into poverty by 2030.
 Current inequalities between men and women, between rich and poor, and between different ethnicities have been observed to worsen as a consequence of climate variability and climate change.
In small islands and mega deltas, flooding from sea level rise is expected to threaten infrastructure and human settlements. This could lead to statelessness for populations in island nations, such as the Maldives and Tuvalu. In some regions, rise in temperature and humidity may also be too severe for humans to adapt to. These factors, plus weather extremes, can drive environmental migration, both within and between countries.
The two conventional responses are mitigation (preventing as much additional warming as possible by reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (adjusting society to compensate for unavoidable warming). Many of the countries that have contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions are among the most vulnerable to climate change, which raises questions about justice and fairness with regard to mitigation and adaptation.
These responses are not mutually exclusive, for instance, to increase chances of successful adaptation, as much additional warming as possible needs to be prevented. Or, to increase chances of successful carbon dioxide removal, emissions need to be brought as close to zero as possible.
The Climate Change Performance Index ranks countries by greenhouse gas emissions (40% of score), renewable energy (20%), energy use (20%), and climate policy (20%).
The IPCC has stressed the need to keep global warming below 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) compared to pre-industrial levels in order to avoid some irreversible impacts. Climate change impacts can be mitigated by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by enhancing the capacity of Earth's surface to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
In order to limit global warming to less than 1.5 °C with a high likelihood of success, the IPCC estimates that global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be net zero by 2050, or by 2070 with a 2 °C target. This will require far-reaching, systemic changes on an unprecedented scale in energy, land, cities, transport, buildings, and industry. To make progress towards that goal, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that, within the next decade, countries will need to triple the amount of reductions they have committed to in their current Paris Agreements.
Technologies and other methods
Coal, oil, and natural gas remain the primary global energy sources even as renewables have begun rapidly increasing.
Key factors to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in all long-term scenarios include rapid and significant investment in renewable energy, nuclear energy, and energy efficiency. These technologies include solar and wind power, bioenergy, geothermal energy, and hydropower. Combined, they are capable of supplying several times the world's current energy needs. Photovoltaic solar and wind, in particular, have seen substantial growth and progress over the last few years, such that they are currently among the cheapest sources of new power generation. Renewables represented 75% of all new electricity generation installed in 2019, with solar and wind constituting nearly all of that amount. However, fossil fuels continue to dominate world energy supplies. In 2018, fossil fuels produced 80% of the world's energy, with modern renewable sources, including solar and wind power, accounting for around 11%.
There are obstacles to the rapid development of renewable energy. Environmental and land use concerns are sometimes associated with large solar, wind and hydropower projects. Solar and wind power also require energy storage systems and other modifications to the electricity grid to operate effectively, although several storage technologies are now emerging to supplement the traditional use of pumped-storage hydropower. The use of rare-earth metals and other hazardous materials has also been raised as a concern with solar power. The use of bioenergy is often not carbon neutral, and may have negative consequences for food security, largely due to the amount of land required compared to other renewable energy options.
Individuals can also take actions to reduce their carbon footprint. These include: driving an electric or other energy efficient car, reducing vehicles miles by using mass transit or cycling, adopting a plant-based diet, reducing energy use in the home, limiting consumption of goods and services, and foregoing air travel.
Scenarios and strategies for 2050
Scenarios of global greenhouse gas emissions. If all countries achieve their current Paris Agreement pledges, average warming by 2100 will go far beyond the target of the Paris Agreement to keep warming "well below 2°C".
Although there is no single pathway to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 °C, most scenarios and strategies see a major increase in the use of renewable energy in combination with increased energy efficiency measures to generate the needed greenhouse gas reductions. To reduce pressures on ecosystems and enhance their carbon sequestration capabilities, changes would also be necessary in forestry and agriculture. Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 °C generally project the large scale use of removal methods to augment the greenhouse gas reduction approaches mentioned above.
Renewable energy would become the dominant form of electricity generation, rising to 85% or more by 2050 in some scenarios. The use of electricity for other needs, such as heating, would rise to the point where electricity becomes the largest form of overall energy supply by 2050. Investment in coal would be eliminated and coal use nearly phased out by 2050.
In transport, scenarios envision sharp increases in the market share of electric vehicles, low carbon fuel substitution for other transportation modes like shipping, and changes in transportation patterns to reduce overall demand, for example increased public transport. Buildings will see additional electrification with the use of technologies like heat pumps, as well as continued energy efficiency improvements achieved via low energy building codes. Industrial efforts will focus on increasing the energy efficiency of production processes, such as the use of cleaner technology for cement production, designing and creating less energy intensive products, increasing product lifetimes, and developing incentives to reduce product demand.
The agriculture and forestry sector faces a triple challenge of limiting greenhouse gas emissions, preventing further conversion of forests to agricultural land, and meeting increases in world food demand. A suite of actions could reduce agriculture/forestry based greenhouse gas emissions by 66% from 2010 levels by reducing growth in demand for food and other agricultural products, increasing land productivity, protecting and restoring forests, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production.
Policies and measures
Economic sectors with more greenhouse gas contributions have a greater stake in climate change policies.
A wide range of policies, regulations and laws are being used to reduce greenhouse gases. Carbon pricing mechanisms include carbon taxes and emissions trading systems. As of 2019, carbon pricing covers about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.Renewable portfolio standards have been enacted in several countries requiring utilities to increase the percentage of electricity they generate from renewable sources. Phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, currently estimated at $300 billion globally (about twice the level of renewable energy subsidies), could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6%. Subsidies could also be redirected to support the transition to clean energy. More prescriptive methods that can reduce greenhouse gases include vehicle efficiency standards, renewable fuel standards, and air pollution regulations on heavy industry.
As the use of fossil fuels is reduced, there are Just Transition considerations involving the social and economic challenges that arise. An example is the employment of workers in the affected industries, along with the well-being of the broader communities involved.Climate justice considerations, such as those facing indigenous populations in the Arctic, are another important aspect of mitigation policies.
Adaptation is "the process of adjustment to current or expected changes in climate and its effects". As climate change effects vary across regions, so do adaptation strategies. While some adaptation responses call for trade-offs, others bring synergies and co-benefits. Increased use of air conditioning allows people to better cope with heat, but also increases energy demand. Other examples of adaptation include improved coastline protection, better disaster management, and the development of more resistant crops.
Adaptation is especially important in developing countries since they are predicted to bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. The capacity and potential for humans to adapt, called adaptive capacity, is unevenly distributed across different regions and populations, and developing countries generally have less. There are limits to adaptation and more severe climate change requires more transformative adaptation, which can be prohibitively expensive. The public sector, private sector, and communities are all gaining experience with adaptation, and adaptation is becoming embedded within their planning processes.
Geoengineering or climate engineering is the deliberate large-scale modification of the climate, considered a potential future method for counteracting climate change. Techniques fall generally into the categories of solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal, although various other schemes have been suggested. A 2018 review paper concluded that although geoengineering is physically possible, all the techniques are in early stages of development, carry large risks and uncertainties and raise significant ethical and legal issues.
Society and culture
Since 2000, rising emissions in China and the rest of world have eclipsed the output of the United States and Europe.
Per person, the United States generates at a far faster rate than other primary regions.
The geopolitics of climate change is complex and has often been framed as a free-rider problem, in which all countries benefit from mitigation done by other countries, but individual countries would lose from investing in a transition to a low-carbon economy themselves. However, net importers of fossil fuels win economically from transitioning, causing net exporters to face stranded assets: fossil fuels they cannot sell, if they choose not to transition. Furthermore, the benefits in terms of public health and local environmental improvements of coal phase out exceed the costs in almost all regions, potentially further eliminating the free-rider problem. The geopolitics are further complicated by the supply chain of rare earth metals necessary to produce many clean technologies.
This mandate was sustained in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC. 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". During these negotiations, the G77 (a lobbying group in the United Nations representing developing countries) pushed for a mandate requiring developed countries to "[take] the lead" in reducing their emissions. This was justified on the basis that developed countries' emissions had contributed most to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, per-capita emissions were still relatively low in developing countries, and the emissions of developing countries would grow to meet their development needs.
In 2009 a group of UNFCCC Parties produced the Copenhagen Accord, which has been widely portrayed as disappointing because of its low goals, and has been rejected by poorer nations including the G77. Nations associated with the Accord aimed to limit the future increase in global mean temperature to below .
In 2015 all UN countries negotiated the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global warming well below and contains an aspirational goal of keeping warming under . The agreement replaced the Kyoto Protocol. Unlike Kyoto, no binding emission targets were set in the Paris Agreement. Instead, the procedure of regularly setting ever more ambitious goals and reevaluating these goals every five years has been made binding. The Paris Agreement reiterated that developing countries must be financially supported. As of November 2019[update], 194 states and the European Union have signed the treaty and 186 states and the EU have ratified or acceded to the agreement. In November 2019 the Trump administration notified the UN that it would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement in 2020.
The importance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is underlined by Target 13.a of the Sustainable Development Goal 13 ("Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts"), one of 17 global goals to be achieved by 2030. Target 13.a is (short version): "Implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change". The long version of Target 13.a is: "Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible."
While ozone depletion and global warming are considered separate problems, the solution to the former has significantly mitigated global warming. The greenhouse gas emission mitigation of the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to stop emitting ozone-depleting gases, is estimated to have been more effective than that of the Kyoto Protocol, which was specifically designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. It has been argued that the Montreal Protocol may have done more than any other measure, as of 2017[update], to mitigate global warming as those substances were also powerful greenhouse gases.
While there is little debate that excess carbon dioxide in the industrial era has mostly come from burning fossil fuels, the future strength of land and ocean carbon sinks is an area of study.
Consensus has further developed that some form of action should be taken to protect people against the impacts of climate change, and national science academies have called on world leaders to cut global emissions. In 2017, in the second warning to humanity, 15,364 scientists from 184 countries stated that "the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production – particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption" is "especially troubling". In 2019, a group of more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries named climate change an "emergency" that would lead to "untold human suffering" if no big shifts in action take place. The emergency declaration emphasized that economic growth and population growth "are among the most important drivers of increases in emissions from fossil fuel combustion" and that "we need bold and drastic transformations regarding economic and population policies".
Climate change came to international public attention in the late 1980s. Due to confusing media coverage in the early 1990s, understanding was often confounded by conflation with other environmental issues like ozone depletion.In popular culture, the first movie to reach a mass public on the topic was The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, followed a few years later by the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Books, stories and films about climate change fall under the genre of climate fiction.
Significant regional differences exist in both public concern for and public understanding of climate change. In 2010, just a little over half the US population viewed it as a serious concern for either themselves or their families, while 73% of people in Latin America and 74% in developed Asia felt this way. Similarly, in 2015 a median of 54% of respondents considered it "a very serious problem", but Americans and Chinese (whose economies are responsible for the greatest annual CO2 emissions) were among the least concerned. Public reactions to climate change and concern about its effects have been increasing, with many perceiving it as the worst global threat. In a 2019 CBS poll, 64% of the US population said that climate change is a "crisis" or a "serious problem", with 44% saying human activity was a significant contributor.
Denial and misinformation
One deceptive approach is cherry picking data from short time periods to falsely assert that global average temperatures are not rising. Blue trendlines show short-term countertrends that mask longer-term warming trends (red trendlines). Blue dots show the so-called global warming hiatus.
Public debate about climate change has been strongly affected by climate change denial and misinformation, which originated in the United States and has since spread to other countries, particularly Canada and Australia. The actors behind climate change denial form a well-funded and relatively coordinated coalition of fossil fuel companies, industry groups, conservative think tanks, and contrarian scientists.Like the tobacco industry before, the main strategy of these groups has been to manufacture doubt about scientific data and results. Many who deny, dismiss, or hold unwarranted doubt about the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change are labelled as "climate change skeptics", which several scientists have noted is a misnomer.
There are different variants of climate denial: some deny that warming takes place at all, some acknowledge warming but attribute it to natural influences, and some minimize the negative impacts of climate change. Manufacturing uncertainty about the science later developed into a manufacturing controversy: creating the belief that there is significant uncertainty about climate change within the scientific community in order to delay policy changes. Strategies to promote these ideas include criticism of scientific institutions, and questioning the motives of individual scientists. An "echo chamber" of climate-denying blogs and media has further fomented misunderstanding of climate change.
Protest and litigation
Climate protests have risen in popularity in the 2010s in such forms as public demonstrations,fossil fuel divestment, and lawsuits. Prominent recent demonstrations include the school strike for climate, and civil disobedience. In the school strike, youth across the globe have protested by skipping school, inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Mass civil disobedience actions by groups like Extinction Rebellion and Ende Gelände, have ended in police intervention and large-scale arrests.Litigation is increasingly used as a tool to strengthen climate action, with many lawsuits targeting governments to demand that they take ambitious action or enforce existing laws regarding climate change. Lawsuits against fossil-fuel companies, from activists, shareholders and investors, generally seek compensation for loss and damage.
Tyndall's sensitive ratio spectrophotometer (drawing published in 1861) measured the extent to which infrared radiation was absorbed and emitted by various gases filling its central tube.
In 1681 Edme Mariotte noted that glass, though transparent to sunlight, obstructs radiant heat. Around 1774 Horace Bénédict de Saussure showed that non-luminous warm objects emit infrared heat, and used a glass-topped insulated box to trap and measure heat from sunlight. In 1824 Joseph Fourier proposed by analogy a version of the greenhouse effect; transparent atmosphere lets through visible light, which warms the surface. The warmed surface emits infrared radiation, but the atmosphere is relatively opaque to infrared and slows the emission of energy, warming the planet. Starting in 1859, John Tyndall established that nitrogen and oxygen (99% of dry air) are transparent to infrared, but water vapour and traces of some gases (significantly methane and carbon dioxide) both absorb infrared and, when warmed, emit infrared radiation. Changing concentrations of these gases could have caused "all the mutations of climate which the researches of geologists reveal" including ice ages.
Svante Arrhenius noted that water vapour in air continuously varied, but carbon dioxide was determined by long term geological processes. At the end of an ice age, warming from increased would increase the amount of water vapour, amplifying its effect in a feedback process. In 1896, he published the first climate model of its kind, showing that halving of could have produced the drop in temperature initiating the ice age. Arrhenius calculated the temperature increase expected from doubling to be around 5-6 °C (9.0-10.8 °F). Other scientists were initially sceptical and believed the greenhouse effect to be saturated so that adding more would make no difference. Experts thought climate would be self-regulating. From 1938 Guy Stewart Callendar published evidence that climate was warming and levels increasing, but his calculations met the same objections.
Before the 1980s, when it was unclear whether warming by greenhouse gases would dominate aerosol-induced cooling, scientists often used the term inadvertent climate modification to refer to humankind's impact on the climate. In the 1980s, the terms global warming and climate change were introduced, the former referring only to increased surface warming, while the latter describes the full effect of greenhouse gases on the climate. Global warming became the most popular term after NASA climate scientist James Hansen used it in his 1988 testimony in the U.S. Senate. In the 2000s, the term climate change increased in popularity. In lay usage, global warming usually refers to human-induced warming of the Earth system, whereas climate change can refer to natural as well as anthropogenic change. The two terms are often used interchangeably.
Various scientists, politicians and media figures have adopted the terms climate crisis or climate emergency to talk about climate change, while using global heating instead of global warming. The policy editor-in-chief of The Guardian explained that they included this language in their editorial guidelines "to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue".Oxford Dictionary chose climate emergency as its word of the year in 2019 and defines the term as "a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it".
Anthropocene - proposed new geological time interval in which humans are having significant geological impact
Global cooling - minority view held by scientists in the 1970s that imminent cooling of the Earth would take place
^IPCC AR5 WG1 Summary for Policymakers 2013, p. 4: Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased; Gleick, 7 January 2017
^IPCC SR15 Ch1 2018, p. 54: Abundant empirical evidence of the unprecedented rate and global scale of impact of human influence on the Earth System (Steffen et al., 2016; Waters et al., 2016) has led many scientists to call for an acknowledgement that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
^EPA 2020:Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees and other biological materials, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Fossil fuel use is the primary source of CO2. CO2 can also be emitted from direct human-induced impacts on forestry and other land use, such as through deforestation, land clearing for agriculture, and degradation of soils. Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
^ abIPCC SR15 Summary for Policymakers 2018, p. 7: Future climate-related risks ... are larger if global warming exceeds 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) before returning to that level by 2100 than if global warming gradually stabilizes at 1.5°C. ... Some impacts may be long-lasting or irreversible, such as the loss of some ecosystems (high confidence).
^Climate Action Tracker 2019, p. 1: Under current pledges, the world will warm by 2.8°C by the end of the century, close to twice the limit they agreed in Paris. Governments are even further from the Paris temperature limit in terms of their real-world action, which would see the temperature rise by 3°C.; United Nations Environment Programme 2019, p. 27.
^IPCC SR15 Ch2 2018, p. 95: In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40-60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045-2055 interquartile range); Rogelj et al. 2015.
^EPA 2016: The U.S. Global Change Research Program, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have each independently concluded that warming of the climate system in recent decades is "unequivocal". This conclusion is not drawn from any one source of data but is based on multiple lines of evidence, including three worldwide temperature datasets showing nearly identical warming trends as well as numerous other independent indicators of global warming (e.g. rising sea levels, shrinking Arctic sea ice).
^IPCC AR5 WG1 Ch5 2013, pp. 389, 399-400: "The PETM [around 55.5-55.3 million years ago] was marked by ... global warming of 4 °C to 7 °C ... Deglacial global warming occurred in two main steps from 17.5 to 14.5 ka [thousand years ago] and 13.0 to 10.0 ka."
^ abIPCC SR15 Ch1 2018, p. 57: This report adopts the 51-year reference period, 1850-1900 inclusive, assessed as an approximation of pre-industrial levels in AR5 ... Temperatures rose by 0.0 °C-0.2 °C from 1720-1800 to 1850-1900 (Hawkins et al., 2017); Hawkins et al. 2017, p. 1844.
^IPCC AR5 WG1 Summary for Policymakers 2013, pp. 4-5: "Global-scale observations from the instrumental era began in the mid-19th century for temperature and other variables ... the period 1880 to 2012 ... multiple independently produced datasets exist."
^"Global Warming". NASA JPL. Retrieved 2020. Satellite measurements show warming in the troposphere but cooling in the stratosphere. This vertical pattern is consistent with global warming due to increasing greenhouse gases, but inconsistent with warming from natural causes.
^United States Environmental Protection Agency 2016, p. 5: "Black carbon that is deposited on snow and ice darkens those surfaces and decreases their reflectivity (albedo). This is known as the snow/ice albedo effect. This effect results in the increased absorption of radiation that accelerates melting."
^IPCC AR5 WG1 Ch3 2013, p. 257: "Ocean warming dominates the global energy change inventory. Warming of the ocean accounts for about 93% of the increase in the Earth's energy inventory between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence), with warming of the upper (0 to 700 m) ocean accounting for about 64% of the total.
^IPCC AR4 WG1 Ch1 2007, FAQ1.1: "To emit 240 W m-2, a surface would have to have a temperature of around -19 °C (-2 °F). This is much colder than the conditions that actually exist at the Earth's surface (the global mean surface temperature is about 14 °C).
^EPA 2020: The main human activity that emits is the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) for energy and transportation, although certain industrial processes and land-use changes also emit .
^Olivier & Peters 2019, p. 17; Oertel et al. 2016: Within the first 30 years after turning forest into agricultural land, 30-35% of the soil carbon stored in the top 7 cm is lost, while below plough depth no changes are recognizable; Union of Concerned Scientists, 9 December 2012: When trees are cut down and burned or allowed to rot, their stored carbon is released into the air as carbon dioxide; EPA 2020:Greenhouse gas emissions from industry primarily come from burning fossil fuels for energy, as well as greenhouse gas emissions from certain chemical reactions necessary to produce goods from raw materials.
^Michigan State University 2014: Nitrous oxide is produced by microbes in almost all soils. In agriculture, N2O is emitted mainly from fertilized soils and animal wastes--wherever nitrogen (N) is readily available.; EPA 2019: Agricultural activities, such as fertilizer use, are the primary source of N2O emissions; Davidson 2009: 2.0% of manure nitrogen and 2.5% of fertilizer nitrogen was converted to nitrous oxide between 1860 and 2005; these percentage contributions explain the entire pattern of increasing nitrous oxide concentrations over this period.
^IPCC SRCCL Ch2 2019, p. 172: "The global biophysical cooling alone has been estimated by a larger range of climate models and is -0.10 ± 0.14°C; it ranges from -0.57°C to +0.06°C ... This cooling is essentially dominated by increases in surface albedo: historical land cover changes have generally led to a dominant brightening of land".
^Wolff et al. 2015: "the nature and magnitude of these feedbacks are the principal cause of uncertainty in the response of Earth's climate (over multi-decadal and longer periods) to a particular emissions scenario or greenhouse gas concentration pathway."
^NASA, 16 June 2011: "So far, land plants and the ocean have taken up about 55 percent of the extra carbon people have put into the atmosphere while about 45 percent has stayed in the atmosphere. Eventually, the land and oceans will take up most of the extra carbon dioxide, but as much as 20 percent may remain in the atmosphere for many thousands of years."
^Melillo et al. 2017: Our first-order estimate of a warming-induced loss of 190 Pg of soil carbon over the 21st century is equivalent to the past two decades of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning.
^IPCC SROCC Ch4 2019, p. 324: GMSL (global mean sea level, red) will rise between 0.43 m (0.29-0.59 m, likely range) (RCP2.6) and 0.84 m (0.61-1.10 m, likely range) (RCP8.5) by 2100 (medium confidence) relative to 1986-2005.
^"Coral Reef Risk Outlook". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2020. At present, local human activities, coupled with past thermal stress, threaten an estimated 75 percent of the world's reefs. By 2030, estimates predict more than 90% of the world's reefs will be threatened by local human activities, warming, and acidification, with nearly 60% facing high, very high, or critical threat levels.
^IPCC AR5 WG2 Ch28 2014, p. 1596: "Within 50 to 70 years, loss of hunting habitats may lead to elimination of polar bears from seasonally ice-covered areas, where two-thirds of their world population currently live."
^NOAA, 17 June 2015: "when scientists or public leaders talk about global warming these days, they almost always mean human-caused warming"; IPCC AR5 SYR Glossary 2014, p. 120: "Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use."
^NASA, 7 July 2020; Shaftel 2016: "'Climate change' and 'global warming' are often used interchangeably but have distinct meanings. ... Global warming refers to the upward temperature trend across the entire Earth since the early 20th century ... Climate change refers to a broad range of global phenomena ...[which] include the increased temperature trends described by global warming."; Associated Press, 22 September 2015: "The terms global warming and climate change can be used interchangeably. Climate change is more accurate scientifically to describe the various effects of greenhouse gases on the world because it includes extreme weather, storms and changes in rainfall patterns, ocean acidification and sea level.".
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