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

1.2 Observed effects of climate changes

The statements presented here are based largely on data sets that cover the period since 1970. The number of studies of observed trends in the physical and biological environment and their relationship to regional climate changes has increased greatly since the TAR. The quality of the data sets has also improved. There is a notable lack of geographic balance in data and literature on observed changes, with marked scarcity in developing countries. {WGII SPM}

These studies have allowed a broader and more confident assessment of the relationship between observed warming and impacts than was made in the TAR. That assessment concluded that “there is high confidence[2] that recent regional changes in temperature have had discernible impacts on physical and biological systems”. {WGII SPM}

Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases. {WGII SPM}

There is high confidence that natural systems related to snow, ice and frozen ground (including permafrost) are affected. Examples are:

  • enlargement and increased numbers of glacial lakes {WGII 1.3, SPM}
  • increasing ground instability in permafrost regions and rock avalanches in mountain regions {WGII 1.3, SPM}
  • changes in some Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems, including those in sea-ice biomes, and predators at high levels of the food web. {WGII 1.3, 4.4, 15.4, SPM}

Based on growing evidence, there is high confidence that the following effects on hydrological systems are occurring: increased runoff and earlier spring peak discharge in many glacier- and snow-fed rivers, and warming of lakes and rivers in many regions, with effects on thermal structure and water quality. {WGII 1.3, 15.2, SPM}

There is very high confidence, based on more evidence from a wider range of species, that recent warming is strongly affecting terrestrial biological systems, including such changes as earlier timing of spring events, such as leaf-unfolding, bird migration and egg-laying; and poleward and upward shifts in ranges in plant and animal species. Based on satellite observations since the early 1980s, there is high confidence that there has been a trend in many regions towards earlier ‘greening’ of vegetation in the spring linked to longer thermal growing seasons due to recent warming. {WGII 1.3, 8.2, 14.2, SPM}

There is high confidence, based on substantial new evidence, that observed changes in marine and freshwater biological systems are associated with rising water temperatures, as well as related changes in ice cover, salinity, oxygen levels and circulation. These include: shifts in ranges and changes in algal, plankton and fish abundance in high-latitude oceans; increases in algal and zooplankton abundance in high-latitude and high-altitude lakes; and range changes and earlier fish migrations in rivers. While there is increasing evidence of climate change impacts on coral reefs, separating the impacts of climate-related stresses from other stresses (e.g. over-fishing and pollution) is difficult. {WGII 1.3, SPM}

Other effects of regional climate changes on natural and human environments are emerging, although many are difficult to discern due to adaptation and non-climatic drivers. {WGII SPM}

Effects of temperature increases have been documented with medium confidence in the following managed and human systems:

  • agricultural and forestry management at Northern Hemisphere higher latitudes, such as earlier spring planting of crops, and alterations in disturbances of forests due to fires and pests {WGII 1.3, SPM}
  • some aspects of human health, such as excess heat-related mortality in Europe, changes in infectious disease vectors in parts of Europe, and earlier onset of and increases in seasonal production of allergenic pollen in Northern Hemisphere high and mid-latitudes {WGII 1.3, 8.2, 8.ES, SPM}
  • some human activities in the Arctic (e.g. hunting and shorter travel seasons over snow and ice) and in lower-elevation alpine areas (such as limitations in mountain sports). {WGII 1.3, SPM}

Sea level rise and human development are together contributing to losses of coastal wetlands and mangroves and increasing damage from coastal flooding in many areas. However, based on the published literature, the impacts have not yet become established trends. {WGII 1.3, 1.ES, SPM}

  1. ^  Likelihood and confidence statements in italics represent calibrated expressions of uncertainty and confidence. See Box ‘Treatment of uncertainty’ in the Introduction for an explanation of these terms.