Summary and Conclusions

We have examined the principal attempts to simulate the effects of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate. In doing so, we have limited our considerations to the direct climatic effects of steadily rising atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and have assumed a rate of CO2 increase that would lead to a doubling of airborne concentrations by some time in the first half of the twenty-first century. As indicated in Chapter 2 of this report, such a rate is consistent with observations of CO2 increases in the recent past and with projections of its future sources and sinks. However, we have not examined anew the many uncertainties in these projections, such as their implicit assumptions with regard to the workings of the world economy and the role of the biosphere in the carbon cycle. These impose an uncertainty beyond that arising from our necessarily imperfect knowledge of the manifold and complex climatic system of the earth.

When it is assumed that the CO2 content of the atmosphere is doubled and statistical thermal equilibrium is achieved, the more realistic of the modeling efforts predict a global surface warming of between 2°C and 3.5°C, with greater increases at high latitudes. This range reflects both uncertainties in physical understanding and inaccuracies arising from the need to reduce the mathematical problem to one that can be handled by even the fastest available electronic computers. It is significant, however, that none of the model calculations predicts negligible warming.

The primary effect of an increase of CO2 is to cause more absorption of thermal radiation from the earth’s surface and thus to increase the air temperature in the troposphere. A strong positive feedback mechanism is the accompanying increase of moisture, which is an even more powerful absorber

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