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

2.9.2 Global Mean Radiative Forcing

The RFs discussed in this chapter, their uncertainty ranges and their efficacies are summarised in Figure 2.20 and Table 2.12. Radiative forcings from forcing agents have been combined into their main groupings. This is particularly useful for aerosol as its total direct RF is considerably better constrained than the RF from individual aerosol types (see Section 2.4.4). Table 2.1 gives a further component breakdown of RF for the LLGHGs. Radiative forcings are the stratospherically adjusted RF and they have not been multiplied by efficacies (see Sections 2.2 and 2.8).

In the TAR, no estimate of the total combined RF from all anthropogenic forcing agents was given because: a) some of the forcing agents did not have central or best estimates; b) a degree of subjectivity was included in the error estimates; and c) uncertainties associated with the linear additivity assumption and efficacy had not been evaluated. Some of these limitations still apply. However, methods for objectively adding the RF of individual species have been developed (e.g., Schwartz and Andreae, 1996; Boucher and Haywood, 2001). In addition, as efficacies are now better understood and quantified (see Section 2.8.5), and as the linear additivity assumption has been more thoroughly tested (see Section 2.8.4), it becomes scientifically justifiable for RFs from different mechanisms to be combined, with certain exceptions as noted below. Adding together the anthropogenic RF values shown in panel (A) of Figure 2.20 and combining their individual uncertainties gives the probability density functions (PDFs) of RF that are shown in panel (B). Three PDFs are shown: the combined RF from greenhouse gas changes (LLGHGs and ozone); the combined direct aerosol and cloud albedo RFs and the combination of all anthropogenic RFs. The solar RF is not included in any of these distributions. The PDFs are generated by combining the 90% confidence estimates for the RFs, assuming independence and employing a one-million point Monte Carlo simulation to derive the PDFs (see Boucher and Haywood, 2001; and Figure 2.20 caption for details).

The PDFs show that LLGHGs and ozone contribute a positive RF of +2.9 ± 0.3 W m–2. The combined aerosol direct and cloud albedo effect exert an RF that is virtually certain to be negative, with a median RF of –1.3 W m–2 and a –2.2 to –0.5 W m–2 90% confidence range. The asymmetry in the combined aerosol PDF is caused by the estimates in Tables 2.6 and 2.7 being non-Gaussian. The combined net RF estimate for all anthropogenic drivers has a value of +1.6 W m–2 with a 0.6 to 2.4 W m–2 90% confidence range. Note that the RFs from surface albedo change, stratospheric water vapour change and persistent contrails are only included in the combined anthropogenic PDF and not the other two.

Statistically, the PDF shown in Figure 2.20 indicates just a 0.2% probability that the total RF from anthropogenic agents is negative, which would suggest that it is virtually certain that the combined RF from anthropogenic agents is positive. Additionally, the PDF presented here suggests that it is extremely likely that the total anthropogenic RF is larger than +0.6 W m–2. This combined anthropogenic PDF is better constrained than that shown in Boucher and Haywood (2001) because each of the individual RFs have been quantified to 90% confidence levels, enabling a more definite assessment, and because the uncertainty in some of the RF estimates is considerably reduced. For example, modelling of the total direct RF due to aerosols is better constrained by satellite and surface-based observations (Section 2.4.2), and the current estimate of the cloud albedo indirect effect has a best estimate and uncertainty associated with it, rather than just a range. The LLGHG RF has also increased by 0.20 W m–2 since 1998, making a positive RF more likely than in Boucher and Haywood (2001).

Nevertheless, there are some structural uncertainties associated with the assumptions used in the construction of the PDF and the assumptions describing the component uncertainties. Normal distributions are assumed for most RF mechanisms (with the exceptions noted in the caption); this may not accurately capture extremes. Additionally, as in Boucher and Haywood (2001), all of the individual RF mechanisms are given equal weighting, even though the level of scientific understanding differs between forcing mechanisms. Note also that variation in efficacy and hence the semi-direct and cloud lifetime effects are not accounted for, as these are not considered to be RFs in this report (see Section 2.2). Adding these effects, together with other potential mechanisms that have so far not been defined as RFs and quantified, would introduce further uncertainties but give a fuller picture of the role of anthropogenic drivers. Introducing efficacy would give a broader PDF and a large cloud lifetime effect would reduce the median estimate. Despite these caveats, from the current knowledge of individual forcing mechanisms presented here it remains extremely likely that the combined anthropogenic RF is both positive and substantial (best estimate: +1.6 W m–2).


Figure 2.20. (A) Global mean RFs from the agents and mechanisms discussed in this chapter, grouped by agent type. Anthropogenic RFs and the natural direct solar RF are shown. The plotted RF values correspond to the bold values in Table 2.12. Columns indicate other characteristics of the RF; efficacies are not used to modify the RFs shown. Time scales represent the length of time that a given RF term would persist in the atmosphere after the associated emissions and changes ceased. No CO2 time scale is given, as its removal from the atmosphere involves a range of processes that can span long time scales, and thus cannot be expressed accurately with a narrow range of lifetime values. The scientific understanding shown for each term is described in Table 2.11. (B) Probability distribution functions (PDFs) from combining anthropogenic RFs in (A). Three cases are shown: the total of all anthropogenic RF terms (block filled red curve; see also Table 2.12); LLGHGs and ozone RFs only (dashed red curve); and aerosol direct and cloud albedo RFs only (dashed blue curve). Surface albedo, contrails and stratospheric water vapour RFs are included in the total curve but not in the others. For all of the contributing forcing agents, the uncertainty is assumed to be represented by a normal distribution (and 90% confidence intervals) with the following exceptions: contrails, for which a lognormal distribution is assumed to account for the fact that the uncertainty is quoted as a factor of three; and tropospheric ozone, the direct aerosol RF (sulphate, fossil fuel organic and black carbon, biomass burning aerosols) and the cloud albedo RF, for which discrete values based on Figure 2.9, Table 2.6 and Table 2.7 are randomly sampled. Additional normal distributions are included in the direct aerosol effect for nitrate and mineral dust, as these are not explicitly accounted for in Table 2.6. A one-million point Monte Carlo simulation was performed to derive the PDFs (Boucher and Haywood, 2001). Natural RFs (solar and volcanic) are not included in these three PDFs. Climate efficacies are not accounted for in forming the PDFs.