Summary: The increase in mean global temperature over the past 150 years is generally ascribed to human activities, in particular the rises in the atmospheric mixing ratios of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution began. Whilst it is thought that ice ages and interglacial periods are mainly initiated by multi-millennial variations in Earth’s heliocentric orbit and obliquity, shorter-term orbital variations and consequent observable climatic effects over decadal/centurial timescales have not been considered significant causes of contemporary climate change compared to anthropogenic influences. Here it is shown that the precession of perihelion occurring over a century substantially affects the intra-annual variation of solar radiation influx at different locations, especially higher latitudes, with northern and southern hemispheres being subject to contrasting insolation changes. This north/south asymmetry has grown since perihelion was aligned with the winter solstice seven to eight centuries ago, and must cause enhanced year-on-year springtime melting of Arctic (but not Antarctic) ice and therefore feedback warming because increasing amounts of land and open sea are denuded of high-albedo ice and snow across boreal summer and into autumn. The accelerating sequence of insolation change now occurring as perihelion moves further into boreal winter has not occurred previously during the Holocene and so would not have been observed before by past or present civilisations. Reasons are given for the significance of this process having been overlooked until now. This mechanism represents a supplementary – natural – contribution to climate change in the present epoch and may even be the dominant fundamental cause of global warming, although anthropogenic effects surely play a role too.