Adopted by Council December 1998
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have substantially increased as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion and other human activities. These elevated concentrations of greenhouse gases are predicted to persist in the atmosphere for times ranging to thousands of years. Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases affect the Earth-atmosphere energy balance, enhancing the natural greenhouse effect and thereby exerting a warming influence at the Earth's surface. Although greenhouse gas concentrations and their climatic influences are projected to increase, the detailed response of the system is uncertain. Principal sources of this uncertainty are the climate system's inherent complexity and natural variability.The increase in global mean surface temperatures over the past 150 years appears to be unusual in the context of the last few centuries, but it is not clearly outside the range of climate variability of the last few thousand years. The geologic record of the more distant past provides evidence of larger climate variations associated with changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. These changes appear to be consistent with present understanding of the radiative properties of carbon dioxide and the influence of climate on the carbon cycle.There is no known geologic precedent for the transfer of carbon from the Earth's crust to atmospheric carbon dioxide, in quantities comparable to the burning of fossil fuels, without simultaneous changes in other parts of the carbon cycle and climate system.This close coupling between atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate suggests that a change in one would in all likelihood be accompanied by a change in the other.