IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report

2. Causes of change

Changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols, land cover and solar radiation alter the energy balance of the climate system. {2.2}

Global GHG emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004 (Figure SPM.3).[5] {2.1}

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most important anthropogenic GHG. Its annual emissions grew by about 80% between 1970 and 2004. The long-term trend of declining CO2 emissions per unit of energy supplied reversed after 2000. {2.1}

Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. {2.2}

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 (379ppm) and CH4 (1774ppb) in 2005 exceed by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years. Global increases in CO2 concentrations are due primarily to fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. It is very likely that the observed increase in CH4 concentration is predominantly due to agriculture and fossil fuel use. CH4 growth rates have declined since the early 1990s, consistent with total emissions (sum of anthropogenic and natural sources) being nearly constant during this period. The increase in N2O concentration is primarily due to agriculture. {2.2}

There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.[6] {2.2}

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.[7] It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica) (Figure SPM.4). {2.4}

During the past 50 years, the sum of solar and volcanic forcings would likely have produced cooling. Observed patterns of warming and their changes are simulated only by models that include anthropogenic forcings. Difficulties remain in simulating and attributing observed temperature changes at smaller than continental scales. {2.4}

Global anthropogenic GHG emissions


Figure SPM.3. (a) Global annual emissions of anthropogenic GHGs from 1970 to 2004.[5] (b) Share of different anthropogenic GHGs in total emissions in 2004 in terms of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-eq). (c) Share of different sectors in total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2004 in terms of CO2-eq. (Forestry includes deforestation.) {Figure 2.1}

Advances since the TAR show that discernible human influences extend beyond average temperature to other aspects of climate. {2.4}

Human influences have: {2.4}

  • very likely contributed to sea level rise during the latter half of the 20th century
  • likely contributed to changes in wind patterns, affecting extra-tropical storm tracks and temperature patterns
  • likely increased temperatures of extreme hot nights, cold nights and cold days
  • more likely than not increased risk of heat waves, area affected by drought since the 1970s and frequency of heavy precipitation events.

Anthropogenic warming over the last three decades has likely had a discernible influence at the global scale on observed changes in many physical and biological systems. {2.4}

Spatial agreement between regions of significant warming across the globe and locations of significant observed changes in many systems consistent with warming is very unlikely to be due solely to natural variability. Several modelling studies have linked some specific responses in physical and biological systems to anthropogenic warming. {2.4}

More complete attribution of observed natural system responses to anthropogenic warming is currently prevented by the short time scales of many impact studies, greater natural climate variability at regional scales, contributions of non-climate factors and limited spatial coverage of studies. {2.4}

Global and continental temperature change


Figure SPM.4. Comparison of observed continental- and global-scale changes in surface temperature with results simulated by climate models using either natural or both natural and anthropogenic forcings. Decadal averages of observations are shown for the period 1906-2005 (black line) plotted against the centre of the decade and relative to the corresponding average for the period 1901-1950. Lines are dashed where spatial coverage is less than 50%. Blue shaded bands show the 5 to 95% range for 19 simulations from five climate models using only the natural forcings due to solar activity and volcanoes. Red shaded bands show the 5 to 95% range for 58 simulations from 14 climate models using both natural and anthropogenic forcings. {Figure 2.5}

  1. ^  Includes only carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphurhexafluoride (SF6), whose emissions are covered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These GHGs are weighted by their 100-year Global Warming Potentials, using values consistent with reporting under the UNFCCC.
  2. ^  Increases in GHGs tend to warm the surface while the net effect of increases in aerosols tends to cool it. The net effect due to human activities since the pre-industrial era is one of warming (+1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W/m2). In comparison, changes in solar irradiance are estimated to have caused a small warming effect (+0.12 [+0.06 to +0.30] W/m2).
  3. ^  Consideration of remaining uncertainty is based on current methodologies.