Global Warming

Global warming is the observed increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation.

Global average air temperature near Earth’s surface rose 0.74 0.18 C (1.3 0.32 F) during the last century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes, "most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations," which leads to warming of the surface and lower atmosphere by increasing the greenhouse effect. Other phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes have probably had a warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950, but a cooling effect since 1950. These conclusions have been endorsed by at least 20 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the G8 states. Some scientists disagree with parts of this conclusion as does the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Only a few of these dissenting scientists specialize in climate science.

Models referenced by the IPCC predict that global temperatures are likely to increase by 1.1 to 6.4 C (2.0 to 11.5 F) between 1990 and 2100. The range of values reflects the use of differing scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions as well as uncertainties regarding climate sensitivity. Although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming and sea level rise are expected to continue for more than a millennium even if no further greenhouse gases are released after this date. This reflects the long average atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide (CO2).

An increase in global temperatures can in turn cause other changes, including a rising sea level and changes in the amount and pattern of precipitation. There may also be increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, though it is difficult to connect specific events to global warming. Other consequences include changes in agricultural yields, glacier retreat, reduced summer streamflows, species extinctions and increases in the ranges of disease vectors.

Remaining scientific uncertainties include the exact degree of climate change expected in the future, and especially how changes will vary from region to region across the globe. A hotly contested political and public debate also has yet to be resolved, regarding whether anything should be done, and what could be cost-effectively done to reduce or reverse future warming, or to deal with the expected consequences. Most national governments have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at combating greenhouse gas emissions.

Terminology

The term global warming is a specific example of the broader term climate change, which can also refer to global cooling. In principle, global warming is neutral as to the period or causes, but in both common and scientific usage the term generally refers to recent warming and implies a human influence. The UNFCCC uses the term "climate change" for human-caused change, and "climate variability" for other changes. The term "anthropogenic climate change" is sometimes used when focusing on human-induced changes.

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