What is the Relationship between Climate Change and Weather?
Please note that this material is from the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2007. The latest climate science can be found inthe IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report, published in August 2021. For other reports and further updates, please refer to theIPCC website.
This material is extracted from the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group 1 (see full reference below).
Climate is generally defined as average weather, and as such, climate change and weather are intertwined. Observations can show that there have been changes in weather, and it is the statistics of changes in weather over time that identify climate change. While weather and climate are closely related, there are important differences. A common confusion between weather and climate arises when scientists are asked how they can predict climate 50 years from now when they cannot predict the weather a few weeks from now. The chaotic nature of weather makes it unpredictable beyond a few days. Projecting changes in climate (i.e., long-term average weather) due to changes in atmospheric composition or other factors is a very different and much more manageable issue. As an analogy, while it is impossible to predict the age at which any particular man will die, we can say with high confidence that the average age of death for men in industrialised countries is about 75. Another common confusion of these issues is thinking that a cold winter or a cooling spot on the globe is evidence against global warming. There are always extremes of hot and cold, although their frequency and intensity change as climate changes. But when weather is averaged over space and time, the fact that the globe is warming emerges clearly from the data.
FAQ 1.2, Figure 1. Schematic view of the components of the climate system, their processes and interactions.
ReferenceIPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment, Report of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
For a more detailed explanation of the answer please see the original IPCC FAQ document at:http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-faqs.pdf