Article | Published:

Assessing the observed impact of anthropogenic climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 532537 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

Impacts of recent regional changes in climate on natural and human systems are documented across the globe, yet studies explicitly linking these observations to anthropogenic forcing of the climate are scarce. Here we provide a systematic assessment of the role of anthropogenic climate change for the range of impacts of regional climate trends reported in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. We find that almost two-thirds of the impacts related to atmospheric and ocean temperature can be confidently attributed to anthropogenic forcing. In contrast, evidence connecting changes in precipitation and their respective impacts to human influence is still weak. Moreover, anthropogenic climate change has been a major influence for approximately three-quarters of the impacts observed on continental scales. Hence the effects of anthropogenic emissions can now be discerned not only globally, but also at more regional and local scales for a variety of natural and human systems.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the IPCC WGII AR5 working group on detection and attribution for their contribution to the impact attribution assessment and the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP. We thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. We wish to thank M. Auffhammer, W. Cramer, C. Huggel, R. Leemans and U. Molau for useful comments, and Y. Estrada for outstanding support with graphics. G.H. was supported by a grant from the German Ministry for Education and Research. D.S. was supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231.

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Affiliations

  1. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, PO Box 60 12 03, D-14412 Potsdam, Germany

    • Gerrit Hansen
  2. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, Mail Stop 50F-1650, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • Dáithí Stone

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Contributions

G.H. and D.S. designed the research and prepared the input data, D.S. performed the calculations, G.H. analysed output, G.H. prepared the manuscript with input from D.S.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gerrit Hansen.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2896

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