Assessments of the regional impacts of human-induced climate change on a wide range of social and environmental systems are fundamental for determining the appropriate policy responses to climate change1,2,3. Yet regional-scale impact assessments are fraught with difficulties, such as the uncertainties of regional climate-change prediction4, the specification of appropriate environmental-response models5, and the interpretation of impact results in the context of future socio-economic and technological change6. The effects of such confounding factors on estimates of climate-change impacts have only been poorly explored3,4,5,6,7. Here we use results from recent global climate simulations8 and two environmental response models9,10 to consider systematically the effects of natural climate variability (30-year timescales) and future climate-change uncertainties on river runoff and agricultural potential in Europe. We find that, for some regions, the impacts of human-induced climate change by 2050 will be undetectable relative to those due to natural multi-decadal climate variability. If misleading assessments of—and inappropriate adaptation strategies to—climate-change impacts are to be avoided, future studies should consider the impacts of natural multi-decadal climate variability alongside those of human-induced climate change.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Parry, M. L., Carter, T. R. & Hulme, M. What is a dangerous climate change? Glob. Environ. Change, 6, 1–6 (1996).
Wigley, T. M. L., Richels, R. & Edmonds, J. A. Economic and environmental choices in the stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nature 379, 240–243 (1996).
IPCC (eds Watson, R. T., Zinyowera, M. C., Moss, R. H. & Dokken, D. J. The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: an Assessment of Vulnerability(Cambridge Univ. Press, (1998).
Kittel, T. G. F., Giorgi, F. & Meehl, G. A. Intercomparison of regional biases and doubled CO2—sensitivity of coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model experiments. Clim. Dyn. 14, 1–15 (1998).
Shugart, H. H. & Smith, T. M. Areview of forest patch models and their applications to global change research. Clim. Change 34, 131–153 (1996).
Dowlatabadi, H. Assessing the health impacts of climate change. Clim. Change 35, 137–144 (1997).
Watson, R. T., Zinyowera, M. C. & Moss, R. H. (eds Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific–Technical Analyses(Cambridge Univ. Press, (1996).
Mitchell, J. F. B. & Johns, T. C. On the modification of global warming by sulphate aerosols. J.Clim. 10, 245–267 (1997).
Arnell, N. W. The effect of climate change on hydrological regimes in Europe: a continental perspective. Glob. Environ. Change 9, 5–23 (1999).
Harrison, P. A. & Butterfield, R. E. Effects of climate change on Europe-wide winter wheat and sunflower productivity. Clim. Res. 7, 225–241 (1996).
Carter, T. R., Parry, M. L., Harasawa, H. & Nishioka, S. IPCC Technical Guidelines for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations(UCL/CGER, London/Tsukuba, (1994).
Parry, M. L. & Carter, T. Climate Impact and Adaptation Assessment(Earthscan, London, (1998).
Hope, C., Anderson, J. & Wenman, P. Policy analysis of the greenhouse effect. Energy Policy 21, 327–338 (1993).
Nordhaus, W. D. Optimal greenhouse gas reductions & tax policy in the ’DICE’ model. Am. Econ. Rev. Pap. Proc. 83, 313–317 (1993).
Fankhauser, S. Valuing Climate Change(Earthscan, London, (1995).
Tol, R. S. J. The damage costs of climate change: toward more comprehensive calculations. Environ. Resource Econ. 5, 353–374 (1995).
Mitchell, J. F. B., Johns, T. C., Eagles, M., Ingram, W. J. & Davis, R. A. Towards the construction of climate change scenarios. Clim. Change(in the press).
Hulme, M. et al. Construction of a 1961–90 climatology for Europe for climate change impacts and modelling applications. Int. J. Climatol. 15, 1333–1363 (1995).
Wilby, R. & Wigley, T. M. L. Downscaling general circulation model output: a review of methods and limitations. Prog. Phys. Geogr. 21, 530–548 (1997).
Richie, J. & Otter, S. in ARS Wheat Yield Project(ed.Willis, W. O.) 159–175 (Dept of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, ARS-38, Washington DC, (1985).
Godwin, D., Ritchie, J., Singh, U. & Hunt, L. A User's Guide to CERES-Wheat - V2.10(Simulation manual IFDC-SM-2, Int. Fertilizer Development Center, Muscle Shoals, AL, (1990).
Weir, A. H., Bragg, P. L., Porter, J. R. & Rayner, J. H. Awinter wheat crop simulation model without water or nutrient limitations. J. Agric. Sci. 102, 371–382 (1984).
Porter, J. R. AFRCWHEAT2: a model of the growth and development of wheat incorporating responses to water and nitrogen Eur. J. Agronomy 2, 69–82 (1993).
Harrison, P. A. Modelling the effects of climate change on wheat productivity in Europe. Aspects Appl. Biol. 45, 41–48 (1996).
Harrison, P. A., Butterfield, R. E. & Gawith, M. J. in Climate Change and Agriculture in Europe: Assessment of Impacts and Adaptations (eds Harrison, P. A., Butterfield, R. E. & Downing, T. E.) 370–379 (Res. Rep. No. 9, Environmental Change Unit, Univ. Oxford, (1995).
Cure, J. D. & Acock, B. Crop responses to carbon dioxide doubling: a literature survey. Agric. Forest Meteorol. 38, 127–145 (1986).
Kimball, B. A. et al. Productivity and water-use of winter wheat under free-air CO2enrichment. Glob. Change Biol. 1, 429–442 (1995).
Batts, G. R. et al. Yield and partitioning in crops of contrasting cultivars of winter wheat in response to CO2and temperature in field studies using temperature gradient tunnels. J. Agric. Sci. 130, 17–27 (1998).
Tett, S. F. B., Johns, T. C. & Mitchell, J. F. B. Global and regional variability in a coupled AOGCM. Clim. Dyn. 13, 303–323 (1997).
Leggett, J., Pepper, W. J. & Swart, R. J. in Climate Change 1992: the Supplementary Report to the IPCC Scientific Assessment(eds Houghton, J. T., Callander, B. A. & Varney, S. K.) 75–95 (Cambridge Univ. Press, (1992).
Model data were obtained through the Climate Impacts LINK Project. This work was supported by DGXII of the Commission of the European Community.
About this article
Cite this article
Hulme, M., Barrow, E., Arnell, N. et al. Relative impacts of human-induced climate change and natural climate variability. Nature 397, 688–691 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/17789
Impact of seasonal variations on soil electrical conductivity as an earthquake precursor along the Margalla Fault Line, Islamabad
Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering (2020)
Separating the Impacts of Climate Change and Human Activities on Runoff: A Review of Method and Application
BMC Plant Biology (2020)
Hydrology Research (2020)