IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

Radiative Forcing

The radiative forcings by long-lived greenhouse gases computed with the radiative transfer codes in twenty of the AOGCMs used in the Fourth Assessment Report have been compared against results from benchmark line-by-line (LBL) models. The mean AOGCM forcing over the period 1860 to 2000 agrees with the mean LBL value to within 0.1 W m–2 at the tropopause. However, there is a range of 25% in longwave forcing due to doubling atmospheric CO2 from its concentration in 1860 across the ensemble of AOGCM codes. There is a 47% relative range in longwave forcing in 2100 contributed by all greenhouse gases in the A1B scenario across the ensemble of AOGCM simulations. These results imply that the ranges in climate sensitivity and climate response from models discussed in this chapter may be due in part to differences in the formulation and treatment of radiative processes among the AOGCMs.

Climate Change Commitment (Temperature and Sea Level)

Results from the AOGCM multi-model climate change commitment experiments (concentrations stabilised for 100 years at year 2000 for 20th-century commitment, and at 2100 values for B1 and A1B commitment) indicate that if greenhouse gases were stabilised, then a further warming of 0.5°C would occur. This should not be confused with ‘unavoidable climate change’ over the next half century, which would be greater because forcing cannot be instantly stabilised. In the very long term, it is plausible that climate change could be less than in a commitment run since forcing could be reduced below current levels. Most of this warming occurs in the first several decades after stabilisation; afterwards the rate of increase steadily declines. The globally averaged precipitation commitment 100 years after stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations amounts to roughly an additional increase of 1 to 2% compared to the precipitation values at the time of stabilisation.

If concentrations were stabilised at A1B levels in 2100, sea level rise due to thermal expansion in the 22nd century would be similar to that in the 21st, and would amount to 0.3 to 0.8 m (relative to 1980 to 1999) above present by 2300. The ranges of thermal expansion overlap substantially for stabilisation at different levels, since model uncertainty is dominant; A1B is given here because most model results are available for that scenario. Thermal expansion would continue over many centuries at a gradually decreasing rate, reaching an eventual level of 0.2 to 0.6 m per °C of global warming relative to present. Under sustained elevated temperatures, some glacier volume may persist at high altitudes, but most could disappear over centuries.

If greenhouse gas concentrations could be reduced, global temperatures would begin to decrease within a decade, although sea level would continue to rise due to thermal expansion for at least another century. Earth System Models of Intermediate Complexity with coupled carbon cycle model components show that for a reduction to zero emissions at year 2100 the climate would take of the order of 1 kyr to stabilise. At year 3000, the model range for temperature increase is 1.1°C to 3.7°C and for sea level rise due to thermal expansion is 0.23 to 1.05 m. Hence, they are projected to remain well above their pre-industrial values.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to contribute to sea level after 2100, initially at a rate of 0.03 to 0.21 m per century for stabilisation in 2100 at A1B concentrations. The contribution would be greater if dynamical processes omitted from current models increased the rate of ice flow, as has been observed in recent years. Except for remnant glaciers in the mountains, the Greenland Ice Sheet would largely be eliminated, raising sea level by about 7 m, if a sufficiently warm climate were maintained for millennia; it would happen more rapidly if ice flow accelerated. Models suggest that the global warming required lies in the range 1.9°C to 4.6°C relative to the pre-industrial temperature. Even if temperatures were to decrease later, it is possible that the reduction of the ice sheet to a much smaller extent would be irreversible.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet is projected to remain too cold for widespread surface melting, and to receive increased snowfall, leading to a gain of ice. Loss of ice from the ice sheet could occur through increased ice discharge into the ocean following weakening of ice shelves by melting at the base or on the surface. In current models, the net projected contribution to sea level rise is negative for coming centuries, but it is possible that acceleration of ice discharge could become dominant, causing a net positive contribution. Owing to limited understanding of the relevant ice flow processes, there is presently no consensus on the long-term future of the ice sheet or its contribution to sea level rise.