Are climate models reliable?

Climate is a large-scale phenomenon that emerges from complicated interactions among small-scale physical systems. Yet despite the phenomenon's complexity, climate models have demonstrated some impressive successes.

Climate projections made with sophisticated computer codes have informed the world's policymakers about the potential dangers of anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate system. Those codes purport to model a large part of the system. But what physics goes into the models, how are the models evaluated, and how reliable are they?

The task climate modelers have set for themselves is to take their knowledge of the local interactions of air masses, water, energy, and momentum and from that knowledge explain the climate system's large-scale features, variability, and response to external pressures, or "forcings." That is a formidable task, and though far from complete, the results so far have been surprisingly successful. Thus, climatologists have some confidence that theirs isn't a foolhardy endeavor.