Facing future climate change: is the past relevant?

Skinner, L. (2008) Facing future climate change: is the past relevant? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366 (1885). pp. 4627-4645. DOI 10.1098/rsta.2008.0228

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2008.0228

Abstract

From a socio-economic perspective, the ‘sharp end’ of climate research is very much about looking forward in time. As far as possible, we need to know what to expect and approximately when to expect it. However, it is argued here that our approach to climate change (including its scientific basis and its policy implications) is firmly linked to our understanding of the past. This is mainly due to the role played by palaeoclimate reconstructions in shaping our expectations of the climate system, in particular via their ability to test the accuracy of our climate models. Importantly, this includes the intuitive models that each of us carries around in our mind, as well as the more complex numerical models hiding inside supercomputers. It is through such models that palaeoclimate insights may affect the scientific and political judgements that we must make in the face of persistent and ultimately irreducible predictive uncertainty. Already we can demonstrate a great deal of confidence in our current understanding of the global climate system based specifically on insights from the geological record. If further advances are to be made effectively, climate models should take advantage of both past and present constraints on their behaviour, and should be given added credence to the extent that they are compatible with an increasingly rich tapestry of past climatic phenomena. Furthermore, palaeoclimate data should be accompanied by clearly defined uncertainties, and organized in arrays that are capable of speaking directly to numerical models, and their limitations in particular.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 08AREP IA57 2008 P
Subjects: 01 - Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems
Divisions: 01 - Climate Change and Earth-Ocean Atmosphere Systems
Journal or Publication Title: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Volume: 366
Page Range: pp. 4627-4645
Identification Number: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0228
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2009 13:03
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2013 10:08
URI: http://eprints.esc.cam.ac.uk/id/eprint/694

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