Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: December 2009

2 - The Science of Climate Change and the Energy Challenge



This chapter provides an overview of the science of climate change, drawing largely on the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international, multidisciplinary assessment body established by the United Nations (UN). The material covered is intended to frame and inform the analysis in subsequent chapters. The information is based on the consensus contained in the reports of the IPCC, especially the Fourth Assessment Report (4AR), released in 2007. Science is coming to the fore in new ways and is influencing institutions, including those setting norms at the international level. Science influences how the problem is framed. At the same time, political processes bear on the way in which scientific output is received and used in policy making. The central role of energy in modern life – and its dominance as a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – means that this is where the battle against climate change must be joined. This chapter thus includes a brief summary of the main features of the energy challenge.


The primary contributor to global climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released by the burning of fossil fuels as well as by land-use change, particularly deforestation. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use rose to 26.4 billion metric tons per year in 2000–2005, with the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions from land-use change (mainly deforestation) being estimated at 5.9 billion metric tons per year during the 1990s.

Marland, Gregg et al., Global and Regional Drivers of Accelerating CO2 Emissions, 104(24) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America10288 (2008)
Peng, Shaobing et al., Rice Yields Decline with Higher Night Temperature from Global Warming, 101(27) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America9971 (2004)
Feely, Richard A. et al., The Impact of Anthropogenic CO2 on the CaCO3 System in the Oceans, 305(5682) SCIENCE362 (2004)
Bush, Mark B. et al., 48,000 Years of Climate and Forest Change in a Biodiversity Hot Spot, 303(5659) Science827 (2004)
Forero, Juan, As Andean Glaciers Shrink, Water Worries Grow, New York Times, November 24, 2002, at A3
Rahmsdorf, Stefan, A Semi-empirical Approach to Projecting Future Sea-Level Rise, 315 Science368 (2007)
Revkin, Andrew C., Large Ice Shelf in Antarctica Disintegrates at Great Speed, New York Times, March 20, 2002, at A13
Revkin, Andrew C., An Icy Riddle as Big as Greenland, New York Times, June 8, 2004, at F1
Dickson, Bob et al., Rapid Freshening of the Deep North Atlantic Ocean over the Past Four Decades, 416 Nature832 (2002)
Hansen, Bogi, Decreasing Overflow from the Nordic Seas into the Atlantic Ocean through the Faroe Bank Channel since 1950, 411 Nature927 (2001)
Stott, Peter A. et al., Human Contribution to the European Heatwave of 2003, 432 Nature610 (2004)
Fitzgerald, Jack, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Taking the First Steps towards a Global Response, 14 Southern Illinois University Law Journal231 (1990)
Agrawala, Shardul, Early Science-Policy Interactions in Climate Change: Lessons from the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases, 9(2) Global Environmental Change: Human and Policy Dimensions157 (1999)
Revkin, Andrew C., Melding Science and Diplomacy to Run a Global Climate Review,New York Times, February 6, 2007
Jasanoff, Sheila, Beyond Epistemology: Relativism and Engagement in the Politics of Science, 26(2) Social Studies of Science393, 397 (1996)
Bradbrook, Adrian et al., A Human Dimension to the Energy Debate: Access to Modern Energy Services 26(4) Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law526 (2008)
Lankao, Patricia Romero et al., Development and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Deviate from the “Modernization” Theory and “Convergence” Hypothesis, 38 Climate Research17 (2008)
Hoffert, Martin I. et al., Energy Implications of Future Stabilization of Atmospheric CO2 Content, 395(6704) Nature881 (1998)
Hotinski, Roberta et al., Solving the Climate Problem, 46(10) Environment10 (2004)
Pacala, Steven & Socolow, Robert, Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies, 305(5686) Science968 (2004)
Rosenthal, Elisabeth, Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-nightmare, New York Times, January 31, 2007
Revkin, Andrew C., A “Bold” Step to Capture an Elusive Gas Falters, New York Times, February 3, 2008