Edited by Joshua D. Sarnoff
Chapter 2: Climate science and policy responses
This chapter introduces the science of climate change. Understanding the causes and impacts of climate change is a predicate for understanding the policy challenges discussed later in this book. Although areas of uncertainty still exist with respect to the ultimate impacts of climate change, hundreds of scientific studies and real time observations around the world clearly indicate that: (1) the earth’s climate is changing; (2) the changes are the result of human activity; (3) the changes are happening faster and with greater impacts than previously projected; and (4) immediate action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and take other steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Climate change refers to the overall response of the planet’s climate system to increased GHG concentrations, including concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, and changes in other climate forcing agents, such as aerosol concentrations and deforestation. With everything else constant, increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases lead to ‘global warming’. So too do increases in black carbon and some changes in land use, agricultural and forestry practices. The causes and impacts of climate change are complex, with long time horizons and inherent uncertainties. In anticipation of the ongoing need for a scientific basis to set climate policy, governments established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. Every five to seven years since then, the IPCC has provided regular scientific and technical assessments.
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