According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization that was set up in 1988 to analyze questions related to climate change, this term refers to “any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.”(7)
The UNFCCC’s definition is stricter and only includes changes linked directly or indirectly to human activity, therefore excluding natural changes to the climate.(8)
Whether or not the natural variability of the climate is included, climate change is measured by the long-term variation in the Earth’s average temperature and by variations in precipitation and wind patterns.
Although the media use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” interchangeably, there is a difference, since global warming refers solely to long-term increases in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface. The Industrial Revolution is used as a reference period for the measurement of anthropogenic warming (which is to say, warming caused by human beings).
As for the term “climate change,” it includes the long-term variability of the Earth’s temperature, as well as that of precipitation and winds. The concept is therefore broader, and is the one generally preferred by the scientific community.(9)
7. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report: Summary for Policymakers, p. 21.
8. United Nations, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Article 1, 1992.
9. Anthony Leiserowitz et al., What’s in a Name? Global Warming Versus Climate Change, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, May 2014, p. 6; NASA, What Are Climate and Climate Change? October 26, 2011.