Our scientific understanding of the climate system strongly supports the conclusion that North Carolina’s climate has changed in recent decades and the expectation that large changes—much larger than at any time in the state’s history—will occur if current trends in greenhouse gas concentrations continue. Even under a scenario where emissions peak around 2050 and decline thereafter, North Carolina will experience substantial changes in climate. The projected changes with the highest level of scientific confidence include increases in temperature, increases in summer absolute humidity, increases in sea level, and increases in extreme precipitation. It is also likely that there will be increases in the intensity of the strongest hurricanes.
A full appreciation for past and future changes in North Carolina’s climate requires a global perspective. Earth’s climate has warmed substantially since the late 19th century, with most of that warming occurring in the last 50 years. This warming trend is clear from global temperature records and many other indicators, including rising global sea levels and rapid decreases in arctic sea ice cover. Scientists have very high confidence that this warming is largely due to human activities that have significantly increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. Exhaustive research has examined other potential causes of this warming, and the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations is the only plausible cause that is consistent with the observed data and the physics that governs the climate system.