The scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming is likely to have passed 99%, according to the lead author of the most authoritative study on the subject, and could rise further after separate research that clears up some of the remaining doubts.
Three studies published in Nature and Nature Geoscience use extensive historical data to show there has never been a period in the last 2,000 years when temperature changes have been as fast and extensive as in recent decades.
It had previously been thought that similarly dramatic peaks and troughs might have occurred in the past, including in periods dubbed the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Climate Anomaly. But the three studies use reconstructions based on 700 proxy records of temperature change, such as trees, ice and sediment, from all continents that indicate none of these shifts took place in more than half the globe at any one time.
The Little Ice Age, for example, reached its extreme point in the 15th century in the Pacific Ocean, the 17th century in Europe and the 19th century elsewhere, says one of the studies. This localisation is markedly different from the trend since the late 20th century when records are being broken year after year over almost the entire globe, including this summer’s European heatwave.
“There is no doubt left – as has been shown extensively in many other studies addressing many different aspects of the climate system using different methods and data sets,” said Stefan Brönnimann, from the University of Bern and the Pages 2K consortium of climate scientists.
Commenting on the study, other scientists said it was an important breakthrough in the “fingerprinting” task of proving how human responsibility has changed the climate in ways not seen in the past.
“This paper should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle. This paper shows the truly stark difference between regional and localised changes in climate of the past and the truly global effect of anthropogenic greenhouse emissions,” said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London.
Previous studies have shown near unanimity among climate scientists that human factors – car exhausts, factory chimneys, forest clearance and other sources of greenhouse gases – are responsible for the exceptional level of global warming.
A 2013 study in Environmental Research Letters found 97% of climate scientists agreed with this link in 12,000 academic papers that contained the words “global warming” or “global climate change” from 1991 to 2011. Last week, that paper hit 1m downloads, making it the most accessed paper ever among the 80+ journals published by the Institute of Physics, according to the authors.