IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report

2.3 Climate sensitivity and feedbacks

The equilibrium climate sensitivity is a measure of the climate system response to sustained radiative forcing. It is defined as the equilibrium global average surface warming following a doubling of CO2 concentration. Progress since the TAR enables an assessment that climate sensitivity is likely to be in the range of 2 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. {WGI 8.6, 9.6, Box 10.2, SPM}

Feedbacks can amplify or dampen the response to a given forcing. Direct emission of water vapour (a greenhouse gas) by human activities makes a negligible contribution to radiative forcing. However, as global average temperature increases, tropospheric water vapour concentrations increase and this represents a key positive feedback but not a forcing of climate change. Water vapour changes represent the largest feedback affecting equilibrium climate sensitivity and are now better understood than in the TAR. Cloud feedbacks remain the largest source of uncertainty. Spatial patterns of climate response are largely controlled by climate processes and feedbacks. For example, sea-ice albedo feedbacks tend to enhance the high latitude response. {WGI 2.8, 8.6, 9.2, TS.2.1.3, TS.2.5, SPM}

Warming reduces terrestrial and ocean uptake of atmospheric CO2, increasing the fraction of anthropogenic emissions remaining in the atmosphere. This positive carbon cycle feedback leads to larger atmospheric CO2 increases and greater climate change for a given emissions scenario, but the strength of this feedback effect varies markedly among models. {WGI 7.3, TS.5.4, SPM; WGII 4.4}