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The scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change

The latest assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

This statement reflects a scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. But how does this scientific consensus actually look like and how strong is it? Two studies explore this question more in detail.

In a first paper, Scientific Historian Naomi Oreskes at the University of California at San Diego analyses 928 papers on global climate change published between 1993 and 2003 to see how many of them endorse the consensus that climate change is real and is influenced by human activity and how many disagree with the consensus position. Her results show that none of the papers disagrees with the consensus.

A second paper by a team around John Cook of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland extends the analysis by Oreskes and examines abstracts of 11 944 scientific papers from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’.  Of the abstracts that express a position on anthropogenic climate change, 97.1% endorse the consensus position. Less than 2% of the papers reject the consensus.

The two studies show in a convincing manner that there is virtually no disagreement within the scientific community on the reality of anthropogenic climate change. Disagreement or discussion rather exist about the speed and magnitude of climate change and on the measures required to tackle it.

References

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S.A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., Way, R., Jacobs, P., Skuce, A., 2013. Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 024024.

IPCC, 2013. Summary for Policy Makers, in: Stocker, T., Qin, D., Plattner, G.-K., Tignor, M., Allen, S., Boschung, J., Nauels, A., Xia, Y., Bex, V., Midgley, P.M. (Eds.), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC, Switzerland.

Oreskes, N., 2004. The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science 306, 1686–1686.

[This blog post was inspired by the course Climate Change in Four Dimensions at Coursera.org]

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