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

TS.6.3 Understanding and Attributing Climate Change

Robust Findings:

Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years. Greenhouse gas forcing alone during the past half century would likely have resulted in greater than the observed warming if there had not been an offsetting cooling effect from aerosol and other forcings. {9.4}

It is extremely unlikely (<5%) that the global pattern of warming during the past half century can be explained without external forcing, and very unlikely that it is due to known natural external causes alone. The warming occurred in both the ocean and the atmosphere and took place at a time when natural external forcing factors would likely have produced cooling. {9.4, 9.7}

It is likely that anthropogenic forcing has contributed to the general warming observed in the upper several hundred metres of the ocean during the latter half of the 20th century. Anthropogenic forcing, resulting in thermal expansion from ocean warming and glacier mass loss, has very likely contributed to sea level rise during the latter half of the 20th century. {9.5}

A substantial fraction of the reconstructed NH inter-decadal temperature variability of the past seven centuries is very likely attributable to natural external forcing (volcanic eruptions and solar variability). {9.3}

Key Uncertainties:

Confidence in attributing some climate change phenomena to anthropogenic influences is currently limited by uncertainties in radiative forcing, as well as uncertainties in feedbacks and in observations. {9.4, 9.5}

Attribution at scales smaller than continental and over time scales of less than 50 years is limited by larger climate variability on smaller scales, by uncertainties in the small-scale details of external forcing and the response simulated by models, as well as uncertainties in simulation of internal variability on small scales, including in relation to modes of variability. {9.4}

There is less confidence in understanding of forced changes in precipitation and surface pressure than there is of temperature. {9.5}

The range of attribution statements is limited by the absence of formal detection and attribution studies, or their very limited number, for some phenomena (e.g., some types of extreme events). {9.5}

Incomplete global data sets for extremes analysis and model uncertainties still restrict the regions and types of detection studies of extremes that can be performed. {9.4, 9.5}

Despite improved understanding, uncertainties in model-simulated internal climate variability limit some aspects of attribution studies. For example, there are apparent discrepancies between estimates of ocean heat content variability from models and observations. {5.2, 9.5}

Lack of studies quantifying the contributions of anthropogenic forcing to ocean heat content increase or glacier melting together with the open part of the sea level budget for 1961 to 2003 are among the uncertainties in quantifying the anthropogenic contribution to sea level rise. {9.5}