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Abstract Estimates of the anthropogenic effective radiative forcing (ERF) trend have increased by 50% since 2000 (from +0.4 W m−2 decade−1 in 2000–09 to +0.6 W m−2 decade−1 in 2010–19), the majority of which is driven by changes in the aerosol ERF trend, as a result of aerosol emissions reductions. Here we study the extent to which observations of the climate system agree with these ERF assumptions. We use a large ERF ensemble from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) to attribute the anthropogenic contributions to global mean surface temperature (GMST), top-of-atmosphere radiative flux, and we use aerosol optical depth observations. The GMST trend has increased from +0.18°C decade−1 in 2000–09 to +0.35°C decade−1 in 2010–19, coinciding with the anthropogenic warming trend rising from +0.19°C decade−1 in 2000–09 to +0.24°C decade−1 in 2010–19. This, as well as observed trends in top-of-atmosphere radiative fluxes and aerosol optical depths, supports the claim of an aerosol-induced temporary acceleration in the rate of warming. However, all three observation datasets additionally suggest that smaller aerosol ERF trend changes are compatible with observations since 2000, since radiative flux and GMST trends are significantly influenced by internal variability over this period. A zero-trend-change aerosol ERF scenario results in a much smaller anthropogenic warming acceleration since 2000 but is poorly represented in AR6’s ERF ensemble. Short-term ERF trends are difficult to verify using observations, so caution is required in predictions or policy judgments that depend on them, such as estimates of current anthropogenic warming trend, and the time remaining to, or the outstanding carbon budget consistent with, 1.5°C warming. Further systematic research focused on quantifying trends and early identification of acceleration or deceleration is required.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Climate


American Meteorological Society

Publication Date





4273 - 4290