William Bloss reviews this summary of climate change

The atlas of climate change
Kirstin Dow and Thomas E. Downing
London: Earthscan 2006 | Pp112 | £12.99 | ISBN 1 844 07376 9

Cover of The atlas of climate change

This book, which is aimed at the general reader, presents a summary of climate change through the medium of global maps, covering aspects such as indicators of climate change, the scientific basis for man-made global warming, and the distribution of emissions, their impacts and societal responses. This approach is effective for understanding aspects such as the geographic/international distribution of emissions, and illustrating the impacts of potential sea-level rise or changes in rainfall, though one critical missed opportunity would seem to be giving the per capita emissions of CO2, by nation. The international response to climate change is also presented, with particularly clear sections on the Kyoto Protocol targets, and the carbon intensity of different economies. 

The underlying physics is presented clearly, with summaries of changes in greenhouse gas concentrations and their contribution to warming, historic data presenting past temperature and CO2 levels, and computer model predictions of future climate. However some important aspects are neglected, such as the role of aerosols in the climate system, eg their potential cooling effect over the mid-20th century, and clear explanations for the temperature-CO2 lag in the historic data; here an opportunity is missed to rebut some of the recent criticisms of climate science in the media. From a chemical perspective, the role of chemistry, for example within the geological carbon cycle, regulating atmospheric methane levels, or driving tropospheric ozone changes, is not discussed. 

The book would provide useful material for school (Year 10/11) students studying climate change, in particular the economic background and potential consequences. For undergraduates, the book would provide an introduction to the topic, though the science aspects are probably too limited for use in chemistry and physics degree courses. 

Works on current research topics such as this inevitably run the risk of being dated soon after publication, and this book suffers slightly from a reliance upon the third IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, published in 2001. The fourth IPCC assessment, which is being released over the course of 2007 and is freely available on the Internet, provides updated estimates for many of the aspects discussed.