The IPCC Fourth Assessment SPM

We’ve had a policy of (mostly) not commenting on the various drafts, misquotes and mistaken readings of the Fourth Assessment report (“AR4″ to those in the acronym loop) of the IPCC. Now that the summary for policy makers (or “SPM”) has actually been published though, we can discuss the substance of the report without having to worry that the details will change. This post will only be our first cut at talking about the whole report. We plan on going chapter by chapter, hopefully explaining the key issues and the remaining key uncertainties over the next few months. This report will be referenced repeatedly over the next few years, and so we can take the time to do a reasonable job explaining what’s in it and why.

First of all, given the science that has been done since the Third Assessment Report (“TAR”) of 2001 – much of which has been discussed here – no one should be surprised that AR4 comes to a stronger conclusion. In particular, the report concludes that human influences on climate are ‘very likely’ (> 90% chance) already detectable in observational record; increased from ‘likely’ (> 66% chance) in the TAR. Key results here include the simulations for the 20th Century by the latest state-of-the-art climate models which demonstrate that recent trends cannot be explained without including human-related increases in greenhouse gases, and consistent evidence for ocean heating, sea ice melting, glacier melting and ecosystem shifts. This makes the projections of larger continued changes ‘in the pipeline’ (particularly under “business as usual” scenarios) essentially indisputable.

Given all of the hoopla since the TAR, many of us were curious to see what the new report would have to say about paleoclimate reconstructions of the past 1000 years. Contrarians will no doubt be disappointed here. The conclusions have been significantly strengthened relative to what was in the TAR, something that of course should have been expected given the numerous additional studies that have since been done that all point in the same direction. The conclusion that large-scale recent warmth likely exceeds the range seen in past centuries has been extended from the past 1000 years in the TAR, to the past 1300 years in the current report, and the confidence in this conclusion has been upped from “likely” in the TAR to “very likely” in the current report for the past half millennium. This is just one of the many independent lines of evidence now pointing towards a clear anthropogenic influence on climate, but given all of the others, the paleoclimate reconstructions are now even less the central pillar of evidence for the human influence on climate than they have been incorrectly portrayed to be.

The uncertainties in the science mainly involve the precise nature of the changes to be expected, particularly with respect to sea level rise, El Niño changes and regional hydrological change – drought frequency and snow pack melt, mid-latitude storms, and of course, hurricanes. It can be fun parsing the discussions on these topics (and we expect there will be substantial press comment on them), but that shouldn’t distract from the main and far more solid conclusions above.

Page 1 of 3 | Next page