A community diagnostics and performance metrics tool for the evaluation of Earth system models (ESMs) has been developed that allows for routine comparison of single or multiple models, either against predecessor versions or against observations. The priority of the effort so far has been to target specific scientific themes focusing on selected essential climate variables (ECVs), a range of known systematic biases common to ESMs, such as coupled tropical climate variability, monsoons, Southern Ocean processes, continental dry biases, and soil hydrology–climate interactions, as well as atmospheric CO2 budgets, tropospheric and stratospheric ozone, and tropospheric aerosols. The tool is being developed in such a way that additional analyses can easily be added. A set of standard namelists for each scientific topic reproduces specific sets of diagnostics or performance metrics that have demonstrated their importance in ESM evaluation in the peer-reviewed literature. The Earth System Model Evaluation Tool (ESMValTool) is a community effort open to both users and developers encouraging open exchange of diagnostic source code and evaluation results from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) ensemble. This will facilitate and improve ESM evaluation beyond the state-of-the-art and aims at supporting such activities within CMIP and at individual modelling centres. Ultimately, we envisage running the ESMValTool alongside the Earth System Grid Federation (ESGF) as part of a more routine evaluation of CMIP model simulations while utilizing observations available in standard formats (obs4MIPs) or provided by the user.