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

1.1 Overview of the Chapter

To better understand the science assessed in this Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), it is helpful to review the long historical perspective that has led to the current state of climate change knowledge. This chapter starts by describing the fundamental nature of earth science. It then describes the history of climate change science using a wide-ranging subset of examples, and ends with a history of the IPCC.

The concept of this chapter is new. There is no counterpart in previous IPCC assessment reports for an introductory chapter providing historical context for the remainder of the report. Here, a restricted set of topics has been selected to illustrate key accomplishments and challenges in climate change science. The topics have been chosen for their significance to the IPCC task of assessing information relevant for understanding the risks of human-induced climate change, and also to illustrate the complex and uneven pace of scientific progress.

In this chapter, the time frame under consideration stops with the publication of the Third Assessment Report (TAR; IPCC, 2001a). Developments subsequent to the TAR are described in the other chapters of this report, and we refer to these chapters throughout this first chapter.