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?

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

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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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