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Climate Change 2001 Assessment

3. What climate changes are expected for the future?

  • 3.1 What emission scenarios are projected?
  • 3.2 What climate changes are projected for the 21st century?
  • 3.3 What climate changes are projected for future centuries?

3.1 What emission scenarios are projected?

The source document for this Digest states:

Human influences will continue to change atmospheric composition throughout the 21st century.

Models have been used to make projections of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and hence of future climate, based upon emissions scenarios from the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) (Figure 5). These scenarios were developed to update the IS92 series, which were used in the SAR4 and are shown for comparison here in some cases. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 12

Greenhouse gases

  • Emissions of CO2 due to fossil fuel burning are virtually certain7 to be the dominant influence on the trends in atmospheric CO2 concentration during the 21st century.
  • As the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere increases, ocean and land will take up a decreasing fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The net effect of land and ocean climate feedbacks as indicated by models is to further increase projected atmospheric CO2 concentrations, by reducing both the ocean and land uptake of CO2. Links...

By 2100, carbon cycle models project atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 540 to 970 ppm for the illustrative SRES scenarios (90 to 250% above the concentration of 280 ppm in the year 1750), Figure 5b. These projections include the land and ocean climate feedbacks.

Uncertainties, especially about the magnitude of the climate feedback from the terrestrial biosphere, cause a variation of about -10 to +30% around each scenario. The total range is 490 to 1260 ppm (75 to 350% above the 1750 concentration). Links...

  • Changing land use could influence atmospheric CO2 concentration. Hypothetically, if all of the carbon released by historical land-use changes could be restored to the terrestrial biosphere over the course of the century (e.g., by reforestation), CO2 concentration would be reduced by 40 to 70 ppm.
  • Model calculations of the concentrations of the non-CO2 greenhouse gases by 2100 vary considerably across the SRES illustrative scenarios, with CH4 changing by –190 to +1,970 ppb (present concentration 1,760 ppb), N2O changing by +38 to +144 ppb (present concentration 316 ppb), total tropospheric O3 changing by -12 to +62%, and a wide range of changes in concentrations of HFCs, PFCs and SF6, all relative to the year 2000. In some scenarios, total tropospheric O3 would become as important a radiative forcing agent as CH4 and, over much of the Northern Hemisphere, would threaten the attainment of current air quality targets.
  • Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the gases that control their concentration would be necessary to stabilise radiative forcing. For example, for the most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, carbon cycle models indicate that stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 450, 650 or 1,000 ppm would require global anthropogenic CO2 emissions to drop below 1990 levels, within a few decades, about a century, or about two centuries, respectively, and continue to decrease steadily thereafter. Eventually CO2 emissions would need to decline to a very small fraction of current emissions. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 12


The SRES scenarios include the possibility of either increases or decreases in anthropogenic aerosols (e.g., sulphate aerosols (Figure 5c), biomass aerosols, black and organic carbon aerosols) depending on the extent of fossil fuel use and policies to abate polluting emissions. In addition, natural aerosols (e.g., sea salt, dust and emissions leading to the production of sulphate and carbon aerosols) are projected to increase as a result of changes in climate. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 12

Radiative forcing over the 21st century

For the SRES illustrative scenarios, relative to the year 2000, the global mean radiative forcing due to greenhouse gases continues to increase through the 21st century, with the fraction due to CO2 projected to increase from slightly more than half to about three quarters. The change in the direct plus indirect aerosol radiative forcing is projected to be smaller in magnitude than that of CO2. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 12

3.2 What climate changes are projected for the 21st century?

The source document for this Digest states:

Global average temperature and sea level are projected to rise under all IPCC SRES scenarios.

In order to make projections of future climate, models incorporate past, as well as future emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols. Hence, they include estimates of warming to date and the commitment to future warming from past emissions

3.2.1 Temperature

The source document for this Digest states:


  • The globally averaged surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.4 to 5.8°C (Figure 5d) over the period 1990 to 2100. These results are for the full range of 35 SRES scenarios, based on a number of climate models10 11.
  • Temperature increases are projected to be greater than those in the SAR4, which were about 1.0 to 3.5°C based on the six IS92 scenarios. The higher projected temperatures and the wider range are due primarily to the lower projected sulphur dioxide emissions in the SRES scenarios relative to the IS92 scenarios.
  • The projected rate of warming is much larger than the observed changes during the 20th century and is very likely7 to be without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years, based on palaeoclimate data.
  • By 2100, the range in the surface temperature response across the group of climate models run with a given scenario is comparable to the range obtained from a single model run with the different SRES scenarios.
  • On timescales of a few decades, the current observed rate of warming can be used to constrain the projected response to a given emissions scenario despite uncertainty in climate sensitivity. This approach suggests that anthropogenic warming is likely7 to lie in the range of 0.1 to 0.2°C per decade over the next few decades under the IS92a scenario, similar to the corresponding range of projections of the simple model used in Figure 5d.
  • Based on recent global model simulations, it is very likely7 that nearly all land areas will warm more rapidly than the global average, particularly those at northern high latitudes in the cold season. Most notable of these is the warming in the northern regions of North America, and northern and central Asia, which exceeds global mean warming in each model by more than 40%. In contrast, the warming is less than the global mean change in south and southeast Asia in summer and in southern South America in winter (see Technical Summary Figure 20 ).
  • Recent trends for surface temperature to become more El Niño-like in the tropical Pacific, with the eastern tropical Pacific warming more than the western tropical Pacific, with a corresponding eastward shift of precipitation, are projected to continue in many models. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 13 & 14

3.2.2 Precipitation

The source document for this Digest states:


Based on global model simulations and for a wide range of scenarios, global average water vapour concentration and precipitation are projected to increase during the 21st century. By the second half of the 21st century, it is likely7 that precipitation will have increased over northern mid- to high latitudes and Antarctica in winter. At low latitudes there are both regional increases and decreases over land areas (see Technical Summary Figure 23 ). Larger year to year variations in precipitation are very likely7 over most areas where an increase in mean precipitation is projected. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 13

3.2.3 Extreme Events

The source document for this Digest states:

Extreme Events

Table 1 depicts an assessment of confidence in observed changes in extremes of weather and climate during the latter half of the 20st century (left column) and in projected changes during the 21st century (right column)a. This assessment relies on observational and modelling studies, as well as the physical plausibility of future projections across all commonly-used scenarios and is based on expert judgement7 .

For some other extreme phenomena, many of which may have important impacts on the environment and society, there is currently insufficient information to assess recent trends, and climate models currently lack the spatial detail required to make confident projections. For example, very small-scale phenomena, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and lightning, are not simulated in climate models. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 15

3.2.4 El Niño

The source document for this Digest states:

El Niño

  • Confidence in projections of changes in future frequency, amplitude, and spatial pattern of El Niño events in the tropical Pacific is tempered by some shortcomings in how well El Niño is simulated in complex models. Current projections show little change or a small increase in amplitude for El Niño events over the next 100 years.
  • Even with little or no change in El Niño amplitude, global warming is likely7 to lead to greater extremes of drying and heavy rainfall and increase the risk of droughts and floods that occur with El Niño events in many different regions. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 16

3.2.5 Monssons

The source document for this Digest states:


It is likely7 that warming associated with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations will cause an increase of Asian summer monsoon precipitation variability. Changes in monsoon mean duration and strength depend on the details of the emission scenario. The confidence in such projections is also limited by how well the climate models simulate the detailed seasonal evolution of the monsoons. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 16

3.2.6 Thermohaline circulation

The source document for this Digest states:

Thermohaline circulation

Most models show weakening of the ocean thermohaline circulation which leads to a reduction of the heat transport into high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. However, even in models where the thermohaline circulation weakens, there is still a warming over Europe due to increased greenhouse gases. The current projections using climate models do not exhibit a complete shut-down of the thermohaline circulation by 2100. Beyond 2100, the thermohaline circulation could completely, and possibly irreversibly, shut-down in either hemisphere if the change in radiative forcing is large enough and applied long enough. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 16

3.2.7 Snow and ice

The source document for this Digest states:

Snow and ice

  • Northern Hemisphere snow cover and sea-ice extent are projected to decrease further.
  • Glaciers and ice caps are projected to continue their widespread retreat during the 21st century.
  • The Antarctic ice sheet is likely7 to gain mass because of greater precipitation, while the Greenland ice sheet is likely7 to lose mass because the increase in runoff will exceed the precipitation increase.
  • Concerns have been expressed about the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet because it is grounded below sea level. However, loss of grounded ice leading to substantial sea level rise from this source is now widely agreed to be very unlikely7 during the 21st century, although its dynamics are still inadequately understood, especially for projections on longer time-scales. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 16

3.2.8 Sea level

The source document for this Digest states:

Sea level

Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 0.09 to 0.88 metres (9 to 88 cm, 3.5 to 35") between 1990 and 2100, for the full range of SRES scenarios. This is due primarily to thermal expansion and loss of mass from glaciers and ice caps (Figure 5e). The range of sea level rise presented in the SAR4 was 0.13 to 0.94 metres based on the IS92 scenarios. Despite the higher temperature change projections in this assessment, the sea level projections are slightly lower, primarily due to the use of improved models, which give a smaller contribution from glaciers and ice sheets. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 16

3.3 What climate changes are projected for future centuries?

The source document for this Digest states:

Anthropogenic climate change will persist for many centuries.

  • Emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases (i.e., CO2, N2O, PFCs, SF6) have a lasting effect on atmospheric composition, radiative forcing and climate. For example, several centuries after CO2 emissions occur, about a quarter of the increase in CO2 concentration caused by these emissions is still present in the atmosphere.
  • After greenhouse gas concentrations have stabilised, global average surface temperatures would rise at a rate of only a few tenths of a degree per century rather than several degrees per century as projected for the 21st century without stabilisation. The lower the level at which concentrations are stabilised, the smaller the total temperature change.
  • Global mean surface temperature increases and rising sea level from thermal expansion of the ocean are projected to continue for hundreds of years after stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations (even at present levels), owing to the long timescales on which the deep ocean adjusts to climate change.
  • Ice sheets will continue to react to climate warming and contribute to sea level rise for thousands of years after climate has been stabilised. Climate models indicate that the local warming over Greenland is likely7 to be one to three times the global average. Ice sheet models project that a local warming of larger than 3°C, if sustained for millennia, would lead to virtually a complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet with a resulting sea level rise of about 7 metres. A local warming of 5.5°C, if sustained for 1,000 years, would be likely7 to result in a contribution from Greenland of about 3 metres to sea level rise.
  • Current ice dynamic models suggest that the West Antarctic ice sheet could contribute up to 3 metres to sea level rise over the next 1,000 years, but such results are strongly dependent on model assumptions regarding climate change scenarios, ice dynamics and other factors. Links...

Source & ©:  IPCC TAR SPM of WG1 page 17

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