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Climate Change 2007 Update

3. How is the climate going to change in the future?

  • 3.1 What are the projected changes in temperature for the 21st century?
  • 3.2 What are the other projected changes for the 21st century?
  • 3.3 What changes are projected on the longer term?

3.1 What are the projected changes in temperature for the 21st century?

The source document for this Digest states:

Temperatures are projected to increase by 1.8°C to
From 1980 to the end of the 21st century, temperatures are projected to increase by 1.8°C to 4.0°C.


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 illustrative marker scenarios for the 2000–2100 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 averaged temperature increases between about 0.15 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 are 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 globally-averaged 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 to higher SRES emission scenarios and the projected warming uncertainty associated with these scenarios. {10.5}
  • Best estimates and likely ranges for globally 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 to 5.8°C), they are not directly comparable (see Figure SPM-5). The AR4 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}

Source & ©: IPCC (WGI) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,
Summary for Policymakers (2007)
, p.12-13

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

The source document for this Digest states:

  • 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. {10.6}
  • 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 1993-2003, 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 m 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 leads to increasing acidification of the ocean. Projections based on SRES scenarios give reductions in average global surface ocean pH 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}

  • 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 SSTs. 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}
  • Extra-tropical 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 of 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}

Source & ©: IPCC (WGI)   Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,
Summary for Policymakers (2007)
, p.13-16

3.3 What changes are projected on the longer term?

The source document for this Digest states:

Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized. {10.4, 10.5, 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}
  • If radiative forcing were to be stabilized in 2100 at B1 or A1B levels a further increase in global average temperature of about 0.5°C would still be expected, mostly by 2200. {10.7}
  • If radiative forcing were to be stabilized in 2100 at A1B levels, 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 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 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 paleoclimatic 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 timescales required for removal of this gas from the atmosphere. {7.3, 10.3}

Source & ©: IPCC (WGI)   Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis,
Summary for Policymakers (2007)
, p.16-17

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