• Climate

Global surface temperatures are increasing according to climate projections, contrary to Wall Street Journal claim

Posted on:  2017-01-27

Key takeaway

Global surface temperatures are increasing consistent with the long-term trend projected by climate models.

Reviewed content


the warming is not nearly as great as the climate change computer models have predicted.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal editorial, 2017-01-19

Verdict detail

Fails to grasp significance of observation: This claim is used to support an argument that climate models failed to forecast global surface temperature warming, but cherry-picks a period of time too short to provide a meaningful comparison.

Full Claim

the warming is not nearly as great as the climate change computer models have predicted. […]U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change simulations forecast surface temperatures to increase on average 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade in the early 21st century. The warming over the first 15 years was closer to 0.05 degrees Celsius.

Christopher Merchant member picture

Christopher Merchant

Professor, University of Reading and UK National Centre for Earth Observation

Although climate modellers tend to quote the trend to warmer temperatures in units of “degrees per decade”, it is a misunderstanding to interpret that to mean that they expect every decade to have that trend. This is why in the quoted statement, the forecast is for increases to be “on average” 0.2 °C. Just as weather fluctuates from day to day, there are fluctuations between years and decades, too.

Piers Forster member picture

Piers Forster

Professor, University of Leeds

The high emissions scenario (RCP8.5) model simulations did show around 0.2 °C warming per decade. But the IPCC report (Chapter 11, WG1, AR5, Fig 11.25) never relied on just these runs to make its prediction. It relied on multiple lines of evidence. Its temperature prediction was in fact around 0.05 to 0.15 C per decade.

The statement “the warming over the first 15 years is 0.05 °C per decade” is not correct. (This was probably meant to be degrees per decade from an old version of the HadCRUT dataset with limited coverage on the Arctic). The latest analysis and synthesis of the different records published in Science in January* constrains sea-surface temperatures trends over the last 19 years to between 0.07 and 0.12 °C per decade. Global temperatures have been rising slightly faster than this due to land surface warming more.

Zeke Hausfather member picture

Zeke Hausfather

Director of Climate and Energy, The Breakthrough Institute

Since the start of the 21st century, climate models predict 0.2 °C per decade surface warming. Observed surface warming over that same period has been 0.2 °C (NASA), 0.19 °C (NOAA) 0.18 °C (Berkeley/ Cowtan and Way), and 0.16 °C (Hadley). All of these are statistically indifferentiable from model projections over this period. In general, recent temperatures have been pretty close to the multi-model mean:

Model comparisons with satellite data are more difficult as satellites don’t measure the Earth’s surface temperature. Some satellite records (RSSv4, UAHv5.6) are in reasonable agreement with model projections for tropospheric temperatures between 2000 and present, while others (UAHv6 beta, RSSv3) are notably cooler.

Shaun Lovejoy member picture

Shaun Lovejoy

Professor, McGill University

The figure below from Lovejoy (2015)* gives some details, but the basic claim of 0.2 °C too high is essentially correct. However, as the figure shows, the temperature was accurately forecast (actually hindcast) to within 0.05 °C by using a stochastic (not General Circulation Model) modelling approach.

The stochastic approach worked well because the so-called pause (since 1998) was actually simply a return to the long-term (anthropogenically forced) trend that followed the massive pre-pause warming from 1992 to1998. The key point is that the fact that General Circulation Model’s tended to over-forecast the warming is a model and/or data problem (there are many different explanations in the literature), but this in no way alters the fact that the temperatures are almost exactly varying about the long term anthropogenic trend as expected.

Science Feedback is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education. Our reviews are crowdsourced directly from a community of scientists with relevant expertise. We strive to explain whether and why information is or is not consistent with the science and to help readers know which news to trust.
Please get in touch if you have any comment or think there is an important claim or article that would need to be reviewed.

Published on:

Related Articles