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The science of climate change


Few areas of science have such profound implications for public policy and society as the study of climate change.

As one consequence, scientists who may have begun their careers in relative backwaters of research now find themselves thrown into the limelight.

Scientific points, and occasional errors, have become the subject of emotive debate and strong media interest. Frequently this has generated more heat than light, with polarised and ill-informed debates across the blogosphere - and indeed at times in the mainstream media.

My aim in developing these web pages is to set out what I believe to be key aspects of the scientific evidence on climate change. In a field so broad the material is necessarily selective, but I hope it presents in a clear and scientific manner an overview of some of the most important areas of study.

The evidence is compelling that climate change is happening, that human activities are the major driver for this and that the future risks are substantial. This evidence includes wide-ranging, long term and robust observations of changes that are taking place, and projections of possible future changes that are based on basic physical laws.

There are also many areas where major uncertainties remain and where more research and long term, reliable observations are required. For example, to understand better the pace, magnitude and precise manifestation of the changes that can be expected, particularly at a regional level.

The fact that uncertainty exists in climate science, as it does in other fields, does not negate the value of the evidence – and it is important to recognise that uncertainty may go in both (or a number of) directions. But an appreciation of the nature and degree of uncertainty is critical if the science is to properly inform decision-making. Indeed, that is what much scientific endeavour is about, describing both what is known and where our understanding is imperfect, and placing “error bars” on the knowledge we have.

I hope that you find these pages informative.

 - Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office for Science

Acknowledgements

In developing this section of the Government Office for Science website I have drawn upon the expertise of many leading scientists, including the network of Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers across Government. My consultations have included discussions with those sceptical or agnostic on aspects of the science, as well as those taking the mainstream view. I offer my profound gratitude to all who have contributed. I will continue to review the information included periodically, as new findings become available.

This material is not presented as a definitive HM Government guide to climate science but as a compilation of selected key findings from the literature.

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