Global Climatic Change: the Difficulties of Assessing Impacts


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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, initiated in 1988, is complete, was debated at the Second World Climate Conference in November, 1990 and was subsequentty submitted to the United Nations General Assembly. IPCC: (i) asserted the reality of humanity's disturbance of the natural climate system; (ii) demanded studies to improve our knowledge of processes vulnerable to climatic changes: and (iii) called for policy responses to mitigate and adapt to these changes. Two fundamental issues are: how will global climatic change affect natural resources and human population and how will the impetus towards policy responses, particularly greenhouse gas emission reduction treaties, affect industry, the economy and trade? A necessary first step in the highly desirable and geographical aspiration of striving to link numerical climate modelling to the predictions of socioeconomic systems is increased awareness and improved understanding of current physical and social models. In this paper I review the status of numerical climatic modelling especially as it pertains to scenarios of the effects of human‐enhanced greenhouse warming. These projections are of futures which are themselves the result of socio‐economic predictions. Development of appropriate adaptive strategies depends crucially upon improved simulation of the continental near‐surface climate and on improved spatial resolution of climate models by at least two orders of magnitude. Such increased resolution is likely to demand a thousandfold increase in computing power. The physical results of global climatic change are likely to be less significant than the social and economic effects resulting from international agreements on emission reduction Recent shifts in international research and policy responses place today's studies of global climatic change firmly at the focus of human‐environment interactions and hence at the core of modern geography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202-225
Number of pages24
JournalAustralian Geographical Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1991


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