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Do we really know what climate change will do to our planet? © Getty Images

Do we really know what climate change will do to our planet?

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Greenhouse gas emissions have already changed our planet, and scientists are using powerful computers to give us high levels of certainty as to what will happen next.

Asked by: Jennifer Cowsill, via email


There is no doubt that greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are changing our climate, resulting in a progressive rise in global average temperatures. The scientific consensus on this is comparable to the scientific consensus that smoking causes lung cancer.

Our climate is a hugely intricate system of interlinking processes, so forecasting exactly how this temperature increase will play out across the globe is a complex task. Scientists base their predictions on powerful computer models that combine our understanding of climatic processes with past climate data.

Many large-scale trends can now be calculated with a high degree of certainty: for instance, warmer temperatures will cause seawater to expand and glaciers to melt, resulting in higher sea levels and flooding. More localised predictions are often subject to greater uncertainty.

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