U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



In: Climate Science Special Report: A Sustained Assessment Activity of the U.S. Global Change Research Program [Wuebbles, D.J., D.W. Fahey, K.A. Hibbard, D.J. Dokken, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA (2017), pp. 38-97.


U.S. government work.


1. The global climate continues to change rapidly compared to the pace of the natural variations in climate that have occurred throughout Earth’s history. Trends in globally averaged temperature, sea level rise, upper-ocean heat content, land-based ice melt, Arctic sea ice, depth of seasonal permafrost thaw, and other climate variables provide consistent evidence of a warming planet. These observed trends are robust and have been confirmed by multiple independent research groups around the world. (Very high confidence)

2. The frequency and intensity of extreme heat and heavy precipitation events are increasing in most continental regions of the world (very high confidence). These trends are consistent with expected physical responses to a warming climate. Climate model studies are also consistent with these trends, although models tend to underestimate the observed trends, especially for the increase in extreme precipitation events (very high confidence for temperature, high confidence for extreme precipitation). The frequency and intensity of extreme temperature events are virtually certain to increase in the future as global temperature increases (high confidence). Extreme precipitation events will very likely continue to increase in frequency and intensity throughout most of the world (high confidence). Observed and projected trends for some other types of extreme events, such as floods, droughts, and severe storms, have more variable regional characteristics.

3. Many lines of evidence demonstrate that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Formal detection and attribution studies for the period 1951 to 2010 find that the observed global mean surface temperature warming lies in the middle of the range of likely human contributions to warming over that same period. We find no convincing evidence that natural variability can account for the amount of global warming observed over the industrial era. For the period extending over the last century, there are no convincing alternative explanations supported by the extent of the observational evidence. Solar output changes and internal variability can only contribute marginally to the observed changes in climate over the last century, and we find no convincing evidence for natural cycles in the observational record that could explain the observed changes in climate. (Very high confidence)

4. Global climate is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond. The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases emitted globally and on the remaining uncertainty in the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to those emissions (very high confidence). With significant reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases, the global annually averaged temperature rise could be limited to 3.6°F (2°C) or less. Without major reductions in these emissions, the increase in annual average global temperatures relative to preindustrial times could reach 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century (high confidence).

5. Natural variability, including El Niño events and other recurring patterns of ocean– atmosphere interactions, impact temperature and precipitation, especially regionally, over months to years. The global influence of natural variability, however, is limited to a small fraction of observed climate trends over decades. (Very high confidence)

6. Longer-term climate records over past centuries and millennia indicate that average temperatures in recent decades over much of the world have been much higher, and have risen faster during this time period, than at any time in the past 1,700 years or more, the time period for which the global distribution of surface temperatures can be reconstructed. (High confidence)