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Climate Change: 2013 IPCC Update

1. How are uncertainties handled by the IPCC?

    The source document for this Digest states:

    TS.1 Introduction

    "Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis" is the contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This comprehensive assessment of the physical aspects of climate change puts a focus on those elements that are relevant to understand past, document current, and project future climate change. The assessment builds on the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)1 and the recent Special Report on Managing the Risk of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)2 and is presented in 14 Chapters and 6 Annexes. The chapters cover direct and proxy observations of changes in all components of the climate system, they assess the current knowledge of various processes within, and interactions among, climate system components, which determine the sensitivity and response of the system to changes in forcing, and they quantify the link between the changes in atmospheric constituents, and hence radiative forcing3, and the consequent detection and attribution of climate change. Projections of changes in all climate system components are based on model simulations forced by a new set of scenarios. The report also provides a comprehensive assessment of past and future sea level change in a dedicated chapter. Regional climate change information is presented in the form of an Atlas of Global and Regional Climate Projections (Annex I). This is complemented by Annex II: Climate System Scenario Tables and Annex III: Glossary.

    The primary purpose of this Technical Summary is to provide the link between the complete assessment of the multiple lines of independent evidence presented in the 14 chapters of the main report and the highly condensed summary prepared as the WGI Summary for Policymakers. The Technical Summary thus serves as a starting point for those readers who seek the full information on more specific topics covered by this assessment. This purpose is facilitated by including pointers to the chapters and sections where the full assessment can be found. Policy-relevant topics, which cut across many chapters and involve many interlinked processes in the climate system, are presented here as Thematic Focus Elements, allowing rapid access of this information.

    An integral element of this report is the use of uncertainty language that permits a traceable account of the assessment (see Box TS.1). The degree of certainty in key findings in this assessment is based on the author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding and is expressed as a level of confidence that results from the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence and the degree of agreement in the scientific studies considered4. Confidence is expressed qualitatively. Quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are expressed probabilistically and are based on a combination of statistical analyses of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgment. Where appropriate, findings are also formulated as statements of fact without using uncertainty qualifiers (See Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details).

    The Technical Summary is structured into four main sections presenting the assessment results following the storyline of the WGI contribution to AR5: Section TS.2 covers the assessment of observations of changes in the climate system; Section TS.3 summarizes the information on the different drivers, natural and anthropogenic, expressed in terms of radiative forcing; Section TS.4 presents the assessment of the quantitative understanding of observed climate change; and Section TS.5 summarizes the assessment results for projections of future climate change over the 21st century and beyond from regional to global scale. Section TS.6 combines and lists key uncertainties from the WGI assessment from Sections TS.2–TS.5. The overall nine Thematic Focus Elements (TFEs), cutting across the various components of the WGI AR5, are dispersed throughout the four main TS sections, are visually distinct from the main text, and should allow stand-alone reading. The basis for substantive paragraphs in this Technical Summary can be found in the chapter sections of the underlying report. These references are given in curly brackets.

    Source & ©: IPCC  Working Group I Contribution To The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. , TS.1 Introduction, p.35

    Box TS.1: Treatment of Uncertainty

    Based on the Guidance Note for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Consistent Treatment of Uncertainties, this WGI Technical Summary and the WGI Summary for Policymakers rely on two metrics for communicating the degree of certainty in key findings, which is based on author teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding:

    • Confidence in the validity of a finding, based on the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence (e.g., mechanistic understanding, theory, data, models, expert judgment) and the degree of agreement. Confidence is expressed qualitatively.
    • Quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding expressed probabilistically (based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or expert judgment).

    The AR5 Guidance Note refines the guidance provided to support the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports. Direct comparisons between assessment of uncertainties in findings in this report and those in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risk of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) are difficult, because of the application of the revised guidance note on uncertainties, as well as the availability of new information, improved scientific understanding, continued analyses of data and models, and specific differences in methodologies applied in the assessed studies. For some climate variables, different aspects have been assessed and therefore a direct comparison would be inappropriate.

    Each key finding is based on an author team’s evaluation of associated evidence and agreement. The confidence metric provides a qualitative synthesis of an author team’s judgment about the validity of a finding, as determined through evaluation of evidence and agreement. If uncertainties can be quantified probabilistically, an author team can characterize a finding using the calibrated likelihood language or a more precise presentation of probability. Unless otherwise indicated, high or very high confidence is associated with findings for which an author team has assigned a likelihood term.

    The following summary terms are used to describe the available evidence: limited, medium, or robust; and for the degree of agreement: low, medium, or high. A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers very low, low, medium, high, and very high. Box TS.1, Figure 1 depicts summary statements for evidence and agreement and their relationship to confidence. There is flexibility in this relationship; for a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels can be assigned, but increasing levels of evidence and degrees of agreement are correlated with increasing confidence.

    The following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood:

    Term* Likelihood of the outcome
    * Additional terms (extremely likely: 95–100% probability, more likely than not: >50–100% probability, and extremely unlikely: 0–5% probability) may also be used when appropriate.
    Virtually certain 99–100% probability
    very likely 90–100% probability
    Likely 66–100% probability
    About as likely as not 33–66% probability
    Unlikely 0–33% probability
    Very unlikely 0–10% probability
    Exceptionally unlikely 0–1% probability

    Source & ©: IPCC  Working Group I Contribution To The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. , Box TS.1 Treatment of uncertainty, p.36

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