The Royal Society Climate Updates: What have we learnt since the IPCC 5th Assessment Report?

Wolff, E; Arnell, N; Friedlingstein, P; Gregory, J; Haigh, J; Haines, A; Hawkins, E; Hegerl, G; Hoskins, B; Mace, G; Prentice, IC; Shine, K; Smith, P; Sutton, R; Turley, CM. 2017 The Royal Society Climate Updates: What have we learnt since the IPCC 5th Assessment Report?. UK, The Royal Society Policy Publication, 35pp. (DES5123)

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Abstract/Summary

Climate has a huge influence on the way we live. For example, it affects the crops we can grow and the diseases we might encounter in particular locations. It also determines the physical infrastructure we need to build to survive comfortably in the face of extremes of heat, cold, drought and flood. Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have changed the composition of the atmosphere over the last two centuries. This is expected to take Earth’s climate out of the relatively stable range that has characterised the last few thousand years, during which human society has emerged. Measurements of ice cores and sea-floor sediments show that the current concentration of carbon dioxide, at just over 400 parts per million, has not been experienced for at least three million years. This causes more of the heat from the Sun to be retained on Earth, warming the atmosphere and ocean. The global average of atmospheric temperature has so far risen by about 1˚C compared to the late 19th century, with further increases expected dependent on the trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions in the next few decades. In 2013 and 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its fifth assessment report (AR5) assessing the evidence about climate change and its impacts. This assessment considered data from observations and records of the past. It then assessed future changes and impacts based on various scenarios for emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic factors. In 2015, almost every nation in the world agreed (in the so-called Paris Agreement) to the challenging goal of keeping global average warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. With the next assessment report (AR6) not due until 2022, it is timely to consider how evidence presented since the publication of AR5 affects the assessments made then. The Earth’s climate is a complex system. To understand it, and the impact that climate change will have, requires many different kinds of study. Climate science consists of theory, observation and modelling. Theory begins with well-established scientific principles, seeks to understand processes occurring over a range of spatial and temporal scales and provides the basis for models. Observation includes long time series of careful measurements, recent data from satellites, and studies of past climate using archives such as tree rings, ice cores and marine sediments. It also encompasses laboratory and field experiments designed to test and enhance understanding of processes. Computer models of the Earth climate system use theory, calibrated and validated by the observations, to calculate the result of future changes. There are nevertheless uncertainties in estimating future climate. Firstly the course of climate change is dependent on what socioeconomic, political and energy paths society takes. Secondly there remain inevitable uncertainties induced for example by variability in the interactions between different parts of the Earth system and by processes, such as cloud formation, that occur at too small a scale to incorporate precisely in global models. Assessments such as those of the IPCC describe the state of knowledge at a particular time, and also highlight areas where more research is needed. We are still exploring and improving our understanding of many of the processes within the climate system, but, on the whole, new research confirms the main ideas underpinning climate research, while refining knowledge, so as to reduce the uncertainty in the magnitude and extent of crucial impacts.

Item Type: Publication - Report (UNSPECIFIED)
Subjects: Atmospheric Sciences
Earth Sciences
Ecology and Environment
Fisheries
Health
Marine Sciences
Meteorology and Climatology
Oceanography
Divisions: Plymouth Marine Laboratory > Science Areas > Sea and Society
Depositing User: Dr Carol Turley
Date made live: 10 Feb 2018 11:29
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2018 11:29
URI: http://plymsea.ac.uk/id/eprint/7783

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