A recent assessment by the intergovernmental panel on climate change concluded that the Earth's climate would be 2–6 °C warmer than in the pre-industrial era by the end of the twenty-first century, due to human-induced increases in greenhouse gases. In the absence of other changes, this would lead to the warmest period on Earth for at least the last 1000 years, and probably the last 100 000 years. The large-scale warming is expected to be accompanied by increased frequency and/or intensity of extreme events, such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall, storms and coastal flooding. There are also several possibilities that this large change could initiate nonlinear climate responses which lead to even more extreme and rapid (on the time-scale of decades) climate change, including the collapse of the ocean ‘conveyor belt’ circulation, the collapse of major ice sheets or the release of large amounts of methane in high latitudes leading to further global warming. Although these catastrophic events are much more speculative than the direct warming due to increased greenhouse gases, their potential impacts are great and therefore should be included in any risk assessment of the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.
One contribution of 20 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Extreme natural hazards’.
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