Science of climate change

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The scientific consensus that humans are responsible for global warming is now compelling with over 90% probability, according to the latest conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-backed scientific body. But uncertainties remain surrounding the extent of future temperature rises and the effects they will have on the earth’s complex ecosystem. 

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Early climate models in the 1970s only took a limited number of factors into account: carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, heat from the sun (radiation) and rain but not clouds (for an introduction to climate science, see BBC). 

Climate science has evolved greatly since then. Models now take into account many more factors such as land surface, ice sheet cover (which reflects the sun’s radiation), deserts (which also reflect radiation), forests (which absorb CO2), ocean currents, and more (for a description of main climate models, see Wikipedia). 

Drawing on peer-reviewed work from hundreds of scientists worldwide, the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are seen as a reference in climate change science. Their purpose is to inform policy-makers about the causes of climate change, its potential impacts and draw up possible response options. The reports have laid the scientific foundations for some countries to embark on ambitious policies to try to reduce global warming. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its related Kyoto Protocol directly stem from conclusions drawn up by the IPCC.