Tracking uncertainties in the causal chain from human activities to climate

Michael J. Prather, Joyce E. Penner, Jan S. Fuglestvedt, Atsushi Kurosawa, Jason A. Lowe, Niklas Höhne, Atul K. Jain, Natalia Andronova, Luiz Pinguelli, Chris Pires De Campos, Sarah C.B. Raper, Ragnhild B. Skeie, Peter A. Stott, John Van Aardenne, Fabian Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attribution of climate change to individual countries is a part of ongoing policy discussions, e.g., the Brazil proposal, and requires a quantifiable link between emissions and climate change. We present a constrained propagation of errors that tracks uncertainties from human activities to greenhouse gas emissions, to increasing abundances of greenhouse gases, to radiative forcing of climate, and finally to climate change, thus following the causal chain for greenhouse gases emitted by developed nations since national reporting began in 1990. Errors combine uncertainties in the forward modeling at each step with top-down constraints on the observed changes in greenhouse gases and temperatures. Global surface temperature increased by +0.11°C in 2003 due to the developed nations' emissions of Kyoto greenhouse gases from 1990 to 2002. The uncertainty range, +0.08°C to +0.14°C (68% confidence), is large considering that the developed countries emissions are well known for this period and climate system modeling uncertainties are constrained by observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL05707
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 16 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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