Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather over periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. It can be a change in the average weather or a change in the distribution of weather events around an average (for example, greater or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change may be limited to a specific region, or may occur across the whole Earth. The most general definition of climate change is a change in the statistical properties of the climate system when considered over periods of decades or longer, regardless of cause. The term sometimes is used to refer specifically to climate change caused by human activity; for example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines climate change as "a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods."
Factors that can shape climate are climate forcings. These include such processes as variations in solar radiation, deviations in the Earth's orbit, mountain-building and continental drift, and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations.
Some parts of the climate system, such as the oceans and ice caps, respond slowly in reaction to climate forcing because of their large mass. Therefore, the climate system can take centuries or longer to fully respond to new external forcings.
In terrestrial ecosystems, the earlier timing of spring events, and pole ward and upward shifts in plant and animal ranges, have been linked with high confidence to recent warming. Future climate change is expected to particularly affect certain ecosystems, including tundra, mangroves, and coral reefs. It is expected that most ecosystems will be affected by higher atmospheric CO2 levels, combined with higher global temperatures. Overall, it is expected that climate change will result in the... [continues]
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