IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

TS.4 Understanding and Attributing Climate Change

Attribution evaluates whether observed changes are consistent with quantitative responses to different forcings obtained in well-tested models, and are not consistent with alternative physically plausible explanations. The first IPCC Assessment Report (FAR) contained little observational evidence of a detectable anthropogenic influence on climate. Six years later, the IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR) concluded that the balance of evidence suggested a discernible human influence on the climate of the 20th century. The TAR concluded that ‘most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations’. Confidence in the assessment of the human contributions to recent climate change has increased considerably since the TAR, in part because of stronger signals obtained from longer records, and an expanded and improved range of observations allowing attribution of warming to be more fully addressed jointly with other changes in the climate system. Some apparent inconsistencies in the observational record (e.g., in the vertical profile of temperature changes) have been largely resolved. There have been improvements in the simulation of many aspects of present mean climate and its variability on seasonal to inter-decadal time scales, although uncertainties remain (see Box TS.7). Models now employ more detailed representations of processes related to aerosol and other forcings. Simulations of 20th-century climate change have used many more models and much more complete anthropogenic and natural forcings than were available for the TAR. Available multi-model ensembles increase confidence in attribution results by providing an improved representation of model uncertainty. An anthropogenic signal has now more clearly emerged in formal attribution studies of aspects of the climate system beyond global-scale atmospheric temperature, including changes in global ocean heat content, continental-scale temperature trends, temperature extremes, circulation and arctic sea ice extent. {9.1}