- future climate
- proxy data
This Discussion Meeting Issue of the Philosophical Transactions A had its genesis in a Discussion Meeting of the Royal Society which took place on 10–11 October 2011. The Discussion Meeting, entitled ‘Warm climates of the past: a lesson for the future?’, brought together 16 eminent international speakers from the field of palaeoclimate, and was attended by over 280 scientists and members of the public. Many of the speakers have contributed to the papers compiled in this Discussion Meeting Issue. The papers summarize the talks at the meeting, and present further or related work. This Discussion Meeting Issue asks to what extent information gleaned from the study of past climates can aid our understanding of future climate change. Climate change is currently an issue at the forefront of environmental science, and also has important sociological and political implications. Most future predictions are carried out by complex numerical models; however, these models cannot be rigorously tested for scenarios outside of the modern, without making use of past climate data. Furthermore, past climate data can inform our understanding of how the Earth system operates, and can provide important contextual information related to environmental change. All past time periods can be useful in this context; here, we focus on past climates that were warmer than the modern climate, as these are likely to be the most similar to the future. This introductory paper is not meant as a comprehensive overview of all work in this field. Instead, it gives an introduction to the important issues therein, using the papers in this Discussion Meeting Issue, and other works from all the Discussion Meeting speakers, as exemplars of the various ways in which past climates can inform projections of future climate. Furthermore, we present new work that uses a palaeo constraint to quantitatively inform projections of future equilibrium ice sheet change.