IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group I: Summary for Policymakers

May 7, 2012, 4:17 pm
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Originally published by our Content Partner: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (other articles)

Table of Contents

Introduction

Human and Natural Drivers of Climate Change

Direct Observations of Recent Climate Change

A Palaeoclimatic Perspective

Understanding and Attributing Climate Change

Projections of Future Changes in Climate

Endnotes
Contributors
Terms of Use
Print Version

This Summary for Policymakers should be cited as:
IPCC, 2007: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Introduction

The Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report describes progress in understanding of the human and natural drivers of climate change,[1] observed climate change, climate processes and attribution, and estimates of projected future climate change. It builds upon past IPCC assessments and incorporates new findings from the past six years of research. Scientific progress since the Third Assessment Report (TAR) is based upon large amounts of new and more comprehensive data, more sophisticated analyses of data, improvements in understanding of processes and their simulation in models and more extensive exploration of uncertainty ranges.

The basis for substantive paragraphs in this Summary for Policymakers can be found in the chapter sections specified in curly brackets.

Human and Natural Drivers of Climate Change

Changes in the atmospheric abundance of greenhouse gases and aerosols, in solar radiation and in land surface properties alter the energy balance of the climate system. These changes are expressed in terms of radiative forcing,[2] which is used to compare how a range of human and natural factors drive warming or cooling influences on global climate. Since the TAR, new observations and related modelling of greenhouse gases, solar activity, land surface properties and some aspects of aerosols have led to improvements in the quantitative estimates of radiative forcing.

Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years (see Figure SPM.1). The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture. {2.3, 6.4, 7.3}

caption Figure SPM.1. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide over the last 10,000 years (large panels) and since 1750 (inset panels). Measurements are shown from ice cores (symbols with different colours for different studies) and atmospheric samples (red lines). The corresponding radiative forcings are shown on the right hand axes of the large panels. {Figure 6.4
  • Carbon dioxide is the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas (see Figure SPM.2). The global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from a pre-industrial value of about 280 ppm to 379 ppm [3] in 2005. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores. The annual carbon dioxide concentration growth rate was larger during the last 10 years (1995–2005 average: 1.9 ppm per year), than it has been since the beginning of continuous direct atmospheric measurements (1960–2005 average: 1.4 ppm per year) although there is year-to-year variability in growth rates. {2.3, 7.3}
  • The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. Annual fossil carbon dioxide emissions [4] increased from an average of 6.4 [6.0 to 6.8] [5] GtC (23.5 [22.0 to 25.0] GtCO2) per year in the 1990s to 7.2 [6.9 to 7.5] GtC (26.4 [25.3 to 27.5] GtCO2) per year in 2000–2005 (2004 and 2005 data are interim estimates). Carbon dioxide emissions associated with land-use change are estimated to be 1.6 [0.5 to 2.7] GtC (5.9 [1.8 to 9.9] GtCO2) per year over the 1990s, although these estimates have a large uncertainty. {7.3}

  • The global atmospheric concentration of methane has increased from a pre-industrial value of about 715 ppb to 1732 ppb in the early 1990s, and was 1774 ppb in 2005. The atmospheric concentration of methane in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range of the last 650,000 years (320 to 790 ppb) as determined from ice cores. Growth rates have declined since the early 1990s, consistent with total emissions (sum of anthropogenic and natural sources) being nearly constant during this period. It is very likely [6] that the observed increase in methane concentration is due to anthropogenic activities, predominantly agriculture and fossil fuel use, but relative contributions from different source types are not well determined. {2.3, 7.4}

  • The global atmospheric nitrous oxide concentration increased from a pre-industrial value of about 270 ppb to 319 ppb in 2005. The growth rate has been approximately constant since 1980. More than a third of all nitrous oxide emissions are anthropogenic and are primarily due to agriculture. {2.3, 7.4}

The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the TAR, leading to very high confidence [7] that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m–2 (see Figure SPM.2). {2.3, 6.5, 2.9}

  • The combined radiative forcing due to increases in carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide is +2.30 [+2.07 to +2.53] W m–2, and its rate of increase during the industrial era is very likely to have been unprecedented in more than 10,000 years (see Figures SPM.1 and SPM.2). The carbon dioxide radiative forcing increased by 20% from 1995 to 2005, the largest change for any decade in at least the last 200 years. {2.3, 6.4}


caption Figure SPM.2. Global average radiative forcing (RF) estimates and ranges in 2005 for anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and other important agents and mechanisms, together with the typical geographical extent (spatial scale) of the forcing and the assessed level of scientific understanding (LOSU). The net anthropogenic radiative forcing and its range are also shown. These require summing asymmetric uncertainty estimates from the component terms, and cannont be obtained by simple addition. Additional forcing factors not included here are considered to have a very low LOSU. Volcanic aerosols contribute an additional natural forcing but are not included in this figure due to their episodic nature. The range for linear contrails does not include other possible effects of aviation on cloudiness. {2.9, Figure 2.20}

 

  • Anthropogenic contributions to aerosols (primarily sulphate, organic carbon, black carbon, nitrate and dust) together produce a cooling effect, with a total direct radiative forcing of –0.5 [–0.9 to –0.1] W m–2 and an indirect cloud albedo forcing of –0.7 [–1.8 to –0.3] W m–2. These forcings are now better understood than at the time of the TAR due to improved in situ, satellite and ground-based measurements and more comprehensive modelling, but remain the dominant uncertainty in radiative forcing. Aerosols also influence cloud lifetime and precipitation. {2.4, 2.9, 7.5}

  • Significant anthropogenic contributions to radiative forcing come from several other sources. Tropospheric ozone changes due to emissions of ozone-forming chemicals (nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbonss) contribute +0.35 [+0.25 to +0.65] W m–2. The direct radiative forcing due to changes in halocarbons [8] is +0.34 [+0.31 to +0.37] W m–2. Changes in surface albedo, due to land cover changes and deposition of black carbon aerosols on snow, exert respective forcings of –0.2 [–0.4 to 0.0] and +0.1 [0.0 to +0.2] W m–2. Additional terms smaller than ±0.1 W m–2 are shown in Figure SPM.2. {2.3, 2.5, 7.2}

  • Changes in solar irradiance since 1750 are estimated to cause a radiative forcing of +0.12 [+0.06 to +0.30] W m–2, which is less than half the estimate given in the TAR. {2.7}

Direct Observations of Recent Climate Change

Since the TAR, progress in understanding how climate is changing in space and in time has been gained through improvements and extensions of numerous datasets and data analyses, broader geographical coverage, better understanding of uncertainties, and a wider variety of measurements. Increasingly comprehensive observations are available for glaciers and snow cover since the 1960s, and for sea level and ice sheets since about the past decade. However, data coverage remains limited in some regions.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level (see Figure SPM.3). {3.2, 4.2, 5.5}

  • Eleven of the last twelve years (1995–2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature [9] (since 1850). The updated 100-year linear trend (1906 to 2005) of 0.74°C [0.56°C to 0.92°C] is therefore larger than the corresponding trend for 1901 to 2000 given in the TAR of 0.6°C [0.4°C to 0.8°C]. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13°C [0.10°C to 0.16°C] per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years. The total temperature increase from 1850–1899 to 2001–2005 is 0.76°C [0.57°C to 0.95°C]. Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence (less than 0.006°C per decade over land and zero over the oceans) on these values. {3.2}

  • New analyses of balloon-borne and satellite measurements of lower- and mid-tropospheric temperature show warming rates that are similar to those of the surface temperature record and are consistent within their respective uncertainties, largely reconciling a discrepancy noted in the TAR. {3.2, 3.4}

  • The average atmospheric water vapour content has increased since at least the 1980s over land and ocean as well as in the upper troposphere. The increase is broadly consistent with the extra water vapour that warmer air can hold. {3.4}

  • Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3000 m and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system. Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea level rise (see Table SPM.1). {5.2, 5.5}


caption Figure SPM.3. Observed changes in (a) global average surface temperature, (b) global average sea level from tide gauge (blue) and satellite (red) data and (c) Northern Hemisphere snow cover for March-April. All changes are relative to corresponding averages for the period 1961-1990. Smoothed curves represent decadal average values while circles show yearly values. The shaded areas are the uncertainty intervals estimated from a comprehensive analysis of known uncertainties (a and b) and from the time series (c). {FAQ 3.1, Figure 1; Figure 4.2; Figure 5.13}

 

  • Mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined on average in both hemispheres. Widespread decreases in glaciers and ice caps have contributed to sea level rise (ice caps do not include contributions from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets). (See Table SPM.1.) {4.6, 4.7, 4.8, 5.5}

  • New data since the TAR now show that losses from the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica have very likely contributed to sea level rise over 1993 to 2003 (see Table SPM.1). Flow speed has increased for some Greenland and Antarctic outlet glaciers, which drain ice from the interior of the ice sheets. The corresponding increased ice sheet mass loss has often followed thinning, reduction or loss of ice shelves or loss of floating glacier tongues. Such dynamical ice loss is sufficient to explain most of the Antarctic net mass loss and approximately half of the Greenland net mass loss. The remainder of the ice loss from Greenland has occurred because losses due to melting have exceeded accumulation due to snowfall. {4.6, 4.8, 5.5}

  • Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm per year over 1961 to 2003. The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8] mm per year. Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer term trend is unclear. There is high confidence that the rate of observed sea level rise increased from the 19th to the 20th century. The total 20th-century rise is estimated to be 0.17 [0.12 to 0.22] m. {5.5}

  • For 1993 to 2003, the sum of the climate contributions is consistent within uncertainties with the total sea level rise that is directly observed (see Table SPM.1). These estimates are based on improved satellite and in situ data now available. For the period 1961 to 2003, the sum of climate contributions is estimated to be smaller than the observed sea level rise. The TAR reported a similar discrepancy for 1910 to 1990. {5.5}

 

At continental, regional and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.[10] {3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.6, 5.2}

  • Average arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years. Arctic temperatures have high decadal variability, and a warm period was also observed from 1925 to 1945. {3.2}

  • Satellite data since 1978 show that annual average arctic sea ice extent has shrunk by 2.7 [2.1 to 3.3]% per decade, with larger decreases in summer of 7.4 [5.0 to 9.8]% per decade. These values are consistent with those reported in the TAR. {4.4}

  • Temperatures at the top of the permafrost layer have generally increased since the 1980s in the Arctic (by up to 3°C). The maximum area covered by seasonally frozen ground has decreased by about 7% in the Northern Hemisphere since 1900, with a decrease in spring of up to 15%. {4.7}

  • Long-term trends from 1900 to 2005 have been observed in precipitation amount over many large regions.[11] Significantly increased precipitation has been observed in eastern parts of North and South America, northern Europe and northern and central Asia. Drying has been observed in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia. Precipitation is highly variable spatially and temporally, and data are limited in some regions. Long-term trends have not been observed for the other large regions assessed.[11] {3.3, 3.9}

  • Changes in precipitation and evaporation over the oceans are suggested by freshening of mid- and high-latitude waters together with increased salinity in low latitude waters. {5.2}

 

Table SPM.1. Observed rate of sea level rise and estimated contributions from difference sources. {5.5, Table 5.3}

Source of sea level rise Rate of sea level rise (mm per year)
1961-2003 1993-2003
Thermal expansion 0.42 ± 0.12 1.6 ± 0.5
Glaciers and ice caps 0.50 ± 0.18 0.77 ± 0.22
Greenland Ice Sheet 0.05 ± 0.12 0.21 ± 0.07
Antarctic Ice Sheet 0.14 ± 0.41 0.21 ± 0.35
Sum of individual climate contributions to sea level rise 1.1 ± 0.5 2.8 ± 0.7
Observed total sea level rise 1.8 ± 0.5 a 3.1 ± 0.7 a
Difference
(Observed minus sum of estimated climate contributions)
0.7 ± 0.7 0.3 ± 1.0
Notes:
aData prior to 1993 are from tide gauges and after 1993 are from satellite altimetry.
  • Mid-latitude westerly winds have strengthened in both hemispheres since the 1960s. {3.5}

  • More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation has contributed to changes in drought. Changes in sea surface temperatures, wind patterns and decreased snowpack and snow cover have also been linked to droughts. {3.3}

  • The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, consistent with warming and observed increases of atmospheric water vapour. {3.8, 3.9}

  • Widespread changes in extreme temperatures have been observed over the last 50 years. Cold days, cold nights and frost have become less frequent, while hot days, hot nights and heat waves have become more frequent (see Table SPM.2). {3.8}

 

Table SPM.2. Recent trends, assessment of human influence on the trend and projections for extreme weather events for which there is an observed late-20th century trend {Tables 3.7, 3.8, 9.4; Sections 3.8, 5.5, 9.7, 11.2-11.9}

Phenomenon a and direction of trend Likelihood that trend occurred in late 20th century (typically post 1960) Likelihood of a human contribution to observed trend b Likelihood of future trends based on projections for 21st century using SRES scenarios
Warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas Very likely Likely d Virtually certain d
Warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas Very likely e Likely (nights) d Virtually certain d
Warm spells/heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas Likely More likely than not f Very likely
Heavy precipitation events. Frequency (or proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls) increases over most areas Likely More likely than not f Very likely
Area affected by droughts increases Likely in many regions since 1970s More likely than not Likely
Intense tropical cyclone activity increases Likely in some regions since 1970 More likely than not f Likely
Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis) g Likely More likely than not f, h Likely i
Notes:
aSee Table 3.7 for further details regarding definitions.
bSee Table TS.4, Box TS.5 and Table 9.4.
cDecreased frequency of cold days and nights (coldest 10%).
dWarming of the most extreme days and nights each year.
eIncreased frequency of hot days and nights (hottest 10%).
fMagnitude of anthropogenic contributions not assessed. Attribution for these phenomena based on expert judgement rather than formal attribution studies.
gExtreme high sea level depends on average sea level and on regional weather systems. It is defined here as the hightest 1% of hourly values of observed sea level at a station for a given reference period.
hChanges in observed extreme high sea level closely follow the changes in average sea level. {5.5} It is very likely that anthropogenic activity contributed to a rise in average sea level. {9.5}
iIn all scenarios, the projected global average sea level at 2100 is higher than in the reference period {10.6} The effect of changes in regional weather systems on sea level extremes has not been assessed.
  • There is observational evidence for an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There are also suggestions of increased intense tropical cyclone activity in some other regions where concerns over data quality are greater. Multi-decadal variability and the quality of the tropical cyclone records prior to routine satellite observations in about 1970 complicate the detection of long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity. There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones. {3.8}

Some aspects of climate have not been observed to change. {3.2, 3.8, 4.4, 5.3}

 

  • A decrease in diurnal temperature range (DTR) was reported in the TAR, but the data available then extended only from 1950 to 1993. Updated observations reveal that DTR has not changed from 1979 to 2004 as both day- and night-time temperature have risen at about the same rate. The trends are highly variable from one region to another. {3.2}

  • Antarctic sea ice extent continues to show interannual variability and localised changes but no statistically significant average trends, consistent with the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region. {3.2, 4.4}

  • There is insufficient evidence to determine whether trends exist in the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the global ocean or in small-scale phenomena such as tornadoes, hail, lightning and dust storms. {3.8, 5.3}

A Palaeoclimatic Perspective

Palaeoclimatic studies use changes in climatically sensitive indicators to infer past changes in global climate on time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. Such proxy data (e.g., tree ring width) may be influenced by both local temperature and other factors such as precipitation, and are often representative of particular seasons rather than full years. Studies since the TAR draw increased confidence from additional data showing coherent behaviour across multiple indicators in different parts of the world. However, uncertainties generally increase with time into the past due to increasingly limited spatial coverage.

Palaeoclimatic information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1,300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 m of sea level rise. {6.4, 6.6}

  • Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in at least the past 1,300 years. Some recent studies indicate greater variability in Northern Hemisphere temperatures than suggested in the TAR, particularly finding that cooler periods existed in the 12th to 14th, 17th and 19th centuries. Warmer periods prior to the 20th century are within the uncertainty range given in the TAR. {6.6}

  • Global average sea level in the last interglacial period (about 125,000 years ago) was likely 4 to 6 m higher than during the 20th century, mainly due to the retreat of polar ice. Ice core data indicate that average polar temperatures at that time were 3°C to 5°C higher than present, because of differences in the Earth’s orbit. The Greenland Ice Sheet and other arctic ice fields likely contributed no more than 4 m of the observed sea level rise. There may also have been a contribution from Antarctica. {6.4}

Understanding and Attributing Climate Change

This assessment considers longer and improved records, an expanded range of observations and improvements in the simulation of many aspects of climate and its variability based on studies since the TAR. It also considers the results of new attribution studies that have evaluated whether observed changes are quantitatively consistent with the expected response to external forcings and inconsistent with alternative physically plausible explanations.

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.[12] This is an advance since the TAR's conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns (see Figure SPM.4 and Table SPM.2). {9.4, 9.5}

  • It is likely that increases in greenhouse gas concentrations alone would have caused more warming than observed because volcanic and anthropogenic aerosols have offset some warming that would otherwise have taken place. {2.9, 7.5, 9.4}

  • The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past 50 years can be explained without external forcing, and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone. {4.8, 5.2, 9.4, 9.5, 9.7}


caption Figure SPM.4. Comparison of observed continental- and global-scale changes in surface temperature with results simulated by climate models using natural and anthropogenic forcings. Decadal averages of observations are shown for the period 1906 to 2005 (black line) plotted against the centre of the decade and relative to the corresponding average for 1901-1950. Lines are dashed where spatial coverage is less than 50%. Blue shaded bands show the 5-95% range for 19 simulations from five cliamte models using only the natural forcings due to solar activity and volcanoes. Red shaded bands show the 5-95% range from 58 simulations from 14 climate models using both natural and anthropogenic forcings. {FAQ 9.2, Figure 1}

 

  • Warming of the climate system has been detected in changes of surface and atmospheric temperatures in the upper several hundred metres of the ocean, and in contributions to sea level rise. Attribution studies have established anthropogenic contributions to all of these changes. The observed pattern of tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling is very likely due to the combined influences of greenhouse gas increases and stratospheric ozone depletion. {3.2, 3.4, 9.4, 9.5}

  • It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent except Antarctica (see Figure SPM.4). The observed patterns of warming, including greater warming over land than over the ocean, and their changes over time, are only simulated by models that include anthropogenic forcing. The ability of coupled climate models to simulate the observed temperature evolution on each of six continents provides stronger evidence of human influence on climate than was available in the TAR. {3.2, 9.4}

  • Difficulties remain in reliably simulating and attributing observed temperature changes at smaller scales. On these scales, natural climate variability is relatively larger, making it harder to distinguish changes expected due to external forcings. Uncertainties in local forcings and feedbacks also make it difficult to estimate the contribution of greenhouse gas increases to observed small-scale temperature changes. {8.3, 9.4}

  • Anthropogenic forcing is likely to have contributed to changes in wind patterns,[13] affecting extratropical storm tracks and temperature patterns in both hemispheres. However, the observed changes in the Northern Hemisphere circulation are larger than simulated in response to 20th-century forcing change. {3.5, 3.6, 9.5, 10.3}

  • Temperatures of the most extreme hot nights, cold nights and cold days are likely to have increased due to anthropogenic forcing. It is more likely than not that anthropogenic forcing has increased the risk of heat waves (see Table SPM.2). {9.4}

Analysis of climate models together with constraints from observations enables an assessed likely range to be given for climate sensitivity for the first time and provides increased confidence in the understanding of the climate system response to radiative forcing. {6.6, 8.6, 9.6, Box 10.2}

  • The equilibrium climate sensitivity is a measure of the climate system response to sustained radiative forcing. It is not a projection but is defined as the global average surface warming following a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations. It is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C, and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values. Water vapour changes represent the largest feedback affecting climate sensitivity and are now better understood than in the TAR. Cloud feedbacks remain the largest source of uncertainty. {8.6, 9.6, Box 10.2}

  • It is very unlikely that climate changes of at least the seven centuries prior to 1950 were due to variability generated within the climate system alone. A significant fraction of the reconstructed Northern Hemisphere inter-decadal temperature variability over those centuries is very likely attributable to volcanic eruptions and changes in solar irradiance, and it is likely that anthropogenic forcing contributed to the early 20th century warming evident in these records. {2.7, 2.8, 6.6, 9.3}

Projections of Future Changes in Climate

A major advance of this assessment of climate change projections compared with the TAR is the large number of simulations available from a broader range of models. Taken together with additional information from observations, these provide a quantitative basis for estimating likelihoods for many aspects of future climate change. Model simulations cover a range of possible futures including idealised emission or concentration assumptions. These include SRES [14] illustrative marker scenarios for the 2000 to 2100 period and model experiments with greenhouse gases and aerosol concentrations held constant after year 2000 or 2100.

For the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of SRES emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected. {10.3, 10.7}

  • Since IPCC’s first report in 1990, assessed projections have suggested global average temperature increases between about 0.15°C and 0.3°C per decade for 1990 to 2005. This can now be compared with observed values of about 0.2°C per decade, strengthening confidence in near-term projections. {1.2, 3.2}

  • Model experiments show that even if all radiative forcing agents were held constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming trend would occur in the next two decades at a rate of about 0.1°C per decade, due mainly to the slow response of the oceans. About twice as much warming (0.2°C per decade) would be expected if emissions are within the range of the SRES scenarios. Best-estimate projections from models indicate that decadal average warming over each inhabited continent by 2030 is insensitive to the choice among SRES scenarios and is very likely to be at least twice as large as the corresponding model-estimated natural variability during the 20th century. {9.4, 10.3, 10.5, 11.2-11.7, Figure TS.29}

 

Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century. {10.3}

  • Advances in climate change modelling now enable best estimates and likely assessed uncertainty ranges to be given for projected warming for different emission scenarios. Results for different emission scenarios are provided explicitly in this report to avoid loss of this policy-relevant information. Projected global average surface warmings for the end of the 21st century (2090–2099) relative to 1980–1999 are shown in Table SPM.3. These illustrate the differences between lower and higher SRES emission scenarios, and the projected warming uncertainty associated with these scenarios. {10.5}

  • Best estimates and likely ranges for global average surface air warming for six SRES emissions marker scenarios are given in this assessment and are shown in Table SPM.3. For example, the best estimate for the low scenario (B1) is 1.8°C (likely range is 1.1°C to 2.9°C), and the best estimate for the high scenario (A1FI) is 4.0°C (likely range is 2.4°C to 6.4°C). Although these projections are broadly consistent with the span quoted in the TAR (1.4°C to 5.8°C), they are not directly comparable (see Figure SPM.5). The Fourth Assessment Report is more advanced as it provides best estimates and an assessed likelihood range for each of the marker scenarios. The new assessment of the likely ranges now relies on a larger number of climate models of increasing complexity and realism, as well as new information regarding the nature of feedbacks from the carbon cycle and constraints on climate response from observations. {10.5}

  • Warming tends to reduce land and ocean uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, increasing the fraction of anthropogenic emissions that remains in the atmosphere. For the A2 scenario, for example, the climate-carbon cycle feedback increases the corresponding global average warming at 2100 by more than 1°C. Assessed upper ranges for temperature projections are larger than in the TAR (see Table SPM.3) mainly because the broader range of models now available suggests stronger climate-carbon cycle feedbacks. {7.3, 10.5}

  • Model-based projections of global average sea level rise at the end of the 21st century (2090–2099) are shown in Table SPM.3. For each scenario, the midpoint of the range in Table SPM.3 is within 10% of the TAR model average for 2090–2099. The ranges are narrower than in the TAR mainly because of improved information about some uncertainties in the projected contributions.[15] {10.6}

 

Table SPM.3. Projected global average surface warming and sea level rise at the end of the 21st century. {10.5, 10.6, Table 10.7}

Case
Temperature Change
(°C at 2090-2099 relative to 1980-1999) a
Sea Level Rise
(m at 2090-2099 relative to 1980-1999)
Best estimate Likely range
Model-based range excluding future
rapid dynamical changes in ice flow
Constant Year 2000 concentrations b 0.6 0.3 - 0.9 NA
B1 Scenario 1.8 1.1 - 2.9 0.18 - 0.38
A1T Scenario 2.4 1.4 - 3.8 0.20 - 0.45
B2 Scenario 2.4 1.4 - 3.8 0.20 - 0.43
A1B Scenario 2.8 1.7 - 4.4 0.21 - 0.48
A2 Scenario 3.4 2.0 - 5.4 0.23 - 0.51
A1Fl scenario 4.0 2.4 - 6.4 0.26 - 0.59
Notes
aThese estimates are assessed from a hierarchy of models that encompass a simple climate model, several Earth System Models of Intermediate Complexity and a large number of Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs).
bYear 2000 constant composition is derived from AOGCMs only.
  • Models used to date do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedback nor do they include the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, because a basis in published literature is lacking. The projections include a contribution due to increased ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica at the rates observed for 1993 to 2003, but these flow rates could increase or decrease in the future. For example, if this contribution were to grow linearly with global average temperature change, the upper ranges of sea level rise for SRES scenarios shown in Table SPM.3 would increase by 0.1 to 0.2 m. Larger values cannot be excluded, but understanding of these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood or provide a best estimate or an upper bound for sea level rise. {10.6}

  • Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations lead to increasing acidification of the ocean. Projections based on SRES scenarios give reductions in average global surface ocean pH [16] of between 0.14 and 0.35 units over the 21st century, adding to the present decrease of 0.1 units since pre-industrial times. {5.4, Box 7.3, 10.4}

There is now higher confidence in projected patterns of warming and other regional-scale features, including changes in wind patterns, precipitation and some aspects of extremes and of ice. {8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 8.5, 9.4, 9.5, 10.3, 11.1}


caption Figure SPM.5. Solid lines are multi-model global averages of surface warming (relative to 1980-1999) for the scenarios A2, A1B, and B1, shown as continuations of the 20th century simulations. Shading denotes the ±1 standard deviation range of individual model annual averages. The orange line is for the experiment where concentrations were held constant at year 2000 values. The grey bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line within each bar) and the likely range assessed for the six SRES marker scenarios. The assessment of the best estimate and likely ranges in the grey bars includes the AOGCMs in the left part of the figure, as well as results form a hierarchy of independent models and observational constraints. {Figure 10.4; Figure 10.29}

 

  • Projected warming in the 21st century shows scenario independent geographical patterns similar to those observed over the past several decades. Warming is expected to be greatest over land and at most high northern latitudes, and least over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean (see Figure SPM.6). {10.3}

  • Snow cover is projected to contract. Widespread increases in thaw depth are projected over most permafrost regions. {10.3, 10.6}

  • Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all SRES scenarios. In some projections, arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century. {10.3}

  • It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent. {10.3}

  • Based on a range of models, it is likely that future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation associated with ongoing increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. There is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of tropical cyclones. The apparent increase in the proportion of very intense storms since 1970 in some regions is much larger than simulated by current models for that period. {9.5, 10.3, 3.8}


caption Figure SPM.6. Projected surface temperature changes for the early and late 21st century relative to the period 1980-1999. The central and right panels show the AOGCM multi-model average projections for the B1 (top), A1B (middle) and A2 (bottom) SRES scenarios averaged over the decades 2020-2029 (centre) and 2090-2099 (right). The left panels show corresponding uncertaintes as the relative probabilities of estimated global average warming from several different AOGCM and Earth System Model of Intermediate Complexity studies for the Same periods. Some studies represent results only for a subset of the SRES scenarios,or for various model versions. Therefore the difference in the number of curves shown in the left-hand panels is due only to differences in the availability of results. {Figure 10.8; Figure 10.28}

 

  • Extratropical storm tracks are projected to move poleward, with consequent changes in wind, precipitation and temperature patterns, continuing the broad pattern of observed trends over the last half-century. {3.6, 10.3}

  • Since the TAR, there is an improving understanding of projected patterns of precipitation. Increases in the amount of precipitation are very likely in high latitudes, while decreases are likely in most subtropical land regions (by as much as about 20% in the A1B scenario in 2100, see Figure SPM.7), continuing observed patterns in recent trends. {3.3, 8.3, 9.5, 10.3, 11.2 to 11.9}

  • Based on current model simulations, it is very likely that the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the Atlantic Ocean will slow down during the 21st century. The multi-model average reduction by 2100 is 25% (range from zero to about 50%) for SRES emission scenario A1B. Temperatures in the Atlantic region are projected to increase despite such changes due to the much larger warming associated with projected increases in greenhouse gases. It is very unlikely that the MOC will undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century. Longer-term changes in the MOC cannot be assessed with confidence. {10.3, 10.7}

  • Climate-carbon cycle coupling is expected to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the climate system warms, but the magnitude of this feedback is uncertain. This increases the uncertainty in the trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions required to achieve a particular stabilisation level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Based on current understanding of climate-carbon cycle feedback, model studies suggest that to stabilise at 450 ppm carbon dioxide could require that cumulative emissions over the 21st century be reduced from an average of approximately 670 [630 to 710] GtC (2460 [2310 to 2600] GtCO2) to approximately 490 [375 to 600] GtC (1800 [1370 to 2200] GtCO2). Similarly, to stabilise at 1000 ppm, this feedback could require that cumulative emissions be reduced from a model average of approximately 1415 [1340 to 1490] GtC (5190 [4910 to 5460] GtCO2) to approximately 1100 [980 to 1250] GtC (4030 [3590 to 4580] GtCO2). {7.3, 10.4}

Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the time scales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilised. {10.4, 10.5, 10.7}

  • If radiative forcing were to be stabilised in 2100 at B1 or A1B levels14 a further increase in global average temperature of about 0.5°C would still be expected, mostly by 2200. {10.7}


caption Figure SPM.7. Relative changes in precipitation (in percent) for the period 2090-2099, relative to 1980-1999. Values are multi-model averages based on the SRES A1B scenario for December to February (left) and June to August (right). White areas are where less than 66% of the models agree in the sign of the change and stippled areas are where more than 90% of the models agree in the sign of the change. {Figure 10.9}

 

  • If radiative forcing were to be stabilised in 2100 at A1B levels14, thermal expansion alone would lead to 0.3 to 0.8 m of sea level rise by 2300 (relative to 1980–1999). Thermal expansion would continue for many centuries, due to the time required to transport heat into the deep ocean. {10.7}

  • Contraction of the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to continue to contribute to sea level rise after 2100. Current models suggest that ice mass losses increase with temperature more rapidly than gains due to precipitation and that the surface mass balance becomes negative at a global average warming (relative to pre-industrial values) in excess of 1.9°C to 4.6°C. If a negative surface mass balance were sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually complete elimination of the Greenland Ice Sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m. The corresponding future temperatures in Greenland are comparable to those inferred for the last interglacial period 125,000 years ago, when palaeoclimatic information suggests reductions of polar land ice extent and 4 to 6 m of sea level rise. {6.4, 10.7}

  • Dynamical processes related to ice flow not included in current models but suggested by recent observations could increase the vulnerability of the ice sheets to warming, increasing future sea level rise. Understanding of these processes is limited and there is no consensus on their magnitude. {4.6, 10.7}

  • Current global model studies project that the Antarctic Ice Sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall. However, net loss of ice mass could occur if dynamical ice discharge dominates the ice sheet mass balance. {10.7}

  • Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium, due to the time scales required for removal of this gas from the atmosphere. {7.3, 10.3}

 

 

The Emission Scenarios of the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) [17]

A1. The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. Major underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building and increased cultural and social interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family develops into three groups that describe alternative directions of technological change in the energy system. The three A1 groups are distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil-intensive (A1FI), non-fossil energy sources (A1T) or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defi ned as not relying too heavily on one particular energy source, on the assumption that similar improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end use technologies).

A2. The A2 storyline and scenario family describes a very heterogeneous world. The underlying theme is self reliance and preservation of local identities. Fertility patterns across regions converge very slowly, which results in continuously increasing population. Economic development is primarily regionally oriented and per capita economic growth and technological change more fragmented and slower than other storylines.

B1. The B1 storyline and scenario family describes a convergent world with the same global population, that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, as in the A1 storyline, but with rapid change in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource-efficient technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability, including improved equity, but without additional climate initiatives.

B2. The B2 storyline and scenario family describes a world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability. It is a world with continuously increasing global population, at a rate lower than A2, intermediate levels of economic development, and less rapid and more diverse technological change than in the B1 and A1 storylines. While the scenario is also oriented towards environmental protection and social equity, it focuses on local and regional levels.

An illustrative scenario was chosen for each of the six scenario groups A1B, A1FI, A1T, A2, B1 and B2. All should be considered equally sound.

The SRES scenarios do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that explicitly assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

 

Endnotes

  1. ^ Climate change in IPCC usage refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. This usage differs from that in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.
  2. ^ Radiative forcing is a measure of the infl uence that a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and is an index of the importance of the factor as a potential climate change mechanism. Positive forcing tends to warm the surface while negative forcing tends to cool it. In this report, radiative forcing values are for 2005 relative to pre-industrial conditions defi ned at 1750 and are expressed in watts per square metre (W m–2). See Glossary and Section 2.2 for further details.
  3. ^ ppm (parts per million) or ppb (parts per billion, 1 billion = 1,000 million) is the ratio of the number of greenhouse gas molecules to the total number of molecules of dry air. For example, 300 ppm means 300 molecules of a greenhouse gas per million molecules of dry air.
  4. ^ Fossil carbon dioxide emissions include those from the production, distribution and consumption of fossil fuels and as a by-product from cement production. An emission of 1 GtC corresponds to 3.67 GtCO2.
  5. ^ In general, uncertainty ranges for results given in this Summary for Policymakers are 90% uncertainty intervals unless stated otherwise, that is, there is an estimated 5% likelihood that the value could be above the range given in square brackets and 5% likelihood that the value could be below that range. Best estimates are given where available. Assessed uncertainty intervals are not always symmetric about the corresponding best estimate. Note that a number of uncertainty ranges in the Working Group I TAR corresponded to 2 standard deviations (95%), often using expert judgment.
  6. ^ In this Summary for Policymakers, the following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood, using expert judgement, of an outcome or a result: Virtually certain > 99% probability of occurrence, Extremely likely > 95%, Very likely > 90%, Likely > 66%, More likely than not > 50%, Unlikely < 33%, Very unlikely < 10%, Extremely unlikely < 5% (see Box TS.1 for more details).
  7. ^ In this Summary for Policymakers the following levels of confidence have been used to express expert judgements on the correctness of the underlying science: very high confidence represents at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct; high confidence represents about an 8 out of 10 chance of
    being correct (see Box TS.1)
  8. ^ Halocarbon radiative forcing has been recently assessed in detail in IPCC’s Special Report on Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System (2005).
  9. ^ The average of near-surface air temperature over land and sea surface temperature.
  10. ^ Tropical cyclones include hurricanes and typhoons.
  11. ^ The assessed regions are those considered in the regional projections chapter of the TAR and in Chapter 11 of this report.
  12. ^ Consideration of remaining uncertainty is based on current methodologies.
  13. ^ In particular, the Southern and Northern Annular Modes and related changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation. {3.6, 9.5, Box TS.2}
  14. ^ SRES refers to the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (2000). The SRES scenario families and illustrative cases, which did not include additional climate initiatives, are summarised in a box at the end of this Summary for Policymakers. Approximate carbon dioxide equivalent concentrations corresponding to the computed radiative forcing due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases and aerosols in 2100 (see p. 823 of the TAR) for the SRES B1, A1T, B2, A1B, A2 and A1FI illustrative marker scenarios are about 600, 700, 800, 850, 1250 and 1,550 ppm respectively. Scenarios B1, A1B and A2 have been the focus of model intercomparison studies and many of those results are assessed in this report.
  15. ^ TAR projections were made for 2100, whereas projections in this report are for 2090–2099. The TAR would have had similar ranges to those in Table SPM.3 if it had
    treated the uncertainties in the same way.
  16. ^ Decreases in pH correspond to increases in acidity of a solution. See Glossary for further details.
  17. ^ Emission scenarios are not assessed in this Working Group I Report of the IPCC. This box summarising the SRES scenarios is taken from the TAR and has been subject to prior line-by-line approval by the Panel.

Contributors

Drafting Authors:
Richard B. Alley, Terje Berntsen, Nathaniel L. Bindoff, Zhenlin Chen, Amnat Chidthaisong, Pierre Friedlingstein, Jonathan M. Gregory, Gabriele C. Hegerl, Martin Heimann, Bruce Hewitson, Brian J. Hoskins, Fortunat Joos, Jean Jouzel, Vladimir Kattsov, Ulrike Lohmann, Martin Manning, Taroh Matsuno, Mario Molina, Neville Nicholls, Jonathan Overpeck, Dahe Qin, Graciela Raga, Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Jiawen Ren, Matilde Rusticucci, Susan Solomon, Richard Somerville, Thomas F. Stocker, Peter A. Stott, Ronald J. Stouffer, Penny Whetton, Richard A. Wood, David Wratt

Draft Contributing Authors:
J. Arblaster, G. Brasseur, J.H. Christensen, K.L. Denman, D.W. Fahey, P. Forster, E. Jansen, P.D. Jones, R. Knutti, H. Le Treut, P. Lemke, G. Meehl, P. Mote, D.A. Randall, D.A. Stone, K.E. Trenberth, J. Willebrand, F. Zwiers

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This is a chapter from IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Working Group I.
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Citation

(2012). IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group I: Summary for Policymakers. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/153667

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