UK’s Royal Society Issues ‘Short Guide’ to Science of Climate Change

September 30, 2010

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, has launched a new short guide to the science of climate change. The Society explained that the “guide has been written to summarize the evidence and to clarify the levels of confidence associated with the current scientific understanding of climate change. It makes clear what is well-known and established about the climate system, what is widely agreed but with some debate about details, and what is still not well understood.”

Essentially the summary “describes how and why the earth is currently warming, and explains the wide range of independent measurements and observations which underpin this understanding.”

The guide takes a strong stand on the role human activity plays in altering the climate. The Society said “there is strong evidence that over the last half century, the earth’s warming has been caused largely by human activity.” However, it also “explains the uncertainty involved in predicting the size of future temperature increases.”

Although arguments about the causes may continue, the Society points out that “there are many potentially serious consequences of climate change, so that important decisions need to be made. The guide concludes that, as in many other areas, policy choices will have to be made in the absence of perfect knowledge, but that the scientific evidence is an essential part of public reasoning in this complex and challenging area.”

The study sets forth how the evidence has been accumulated, what it now shows, and what future data can be extrapolated from what is now known. In one section it states that observations of greenhouse gasses “show that about half of the CO2 emitted by human activity since the industrial revolution has remained in the atmosphere. The remainder has been taken up by the oceans, soils and plants although the exact amount going to each of these individually is less well known.” As a result, “global-average CO2 concentrations have been observed to increase from levels of around 280 parts per million (ppm) in the mid-19th century to around 388 ppm by the end of 2009.”

John Pethica, Vice-President of the Royal Society and Chair of the working group that wrote the document stated: “Climate change is an important issue affecting everyone. Much of the public debate on climate change is polarized at present, which can make it difficult to get a good overview of the science.

“This guide explains where the science is clear and established, and also where it is less certain. It is not a simple guide, as this is not a simple issue. This summary has been produced for all who want to understand the full range of the scientific evidence.”

The guide has been prepared by leading international scientists, mostly drawn from the Fellowship of the Society, and it is based on very extensive published scientific work. The working group drew on input from a wide range of experts and the document was reviewed by both Fellows and others with a broad range of relevant expertise and experience.

Source: The Royal Society

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