IPCC Fourth Assessment Report

Climate Change 2007, the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the fourth in a series of reports intended to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change, its potential effects, and options for adaptation and mitigation. The report is the largest and most detailed summary of the climate change situation ever undertaken, produced by thousands of authors, editors, and reviewers from dozens of countries, citing over 6,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies.

It supersedes the Third Assessment Report (2001), and is superseded by the Fifth Assessment Report.

The headline findings of the report were: "warming of the climate system is unequivocal", and "most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."

The full WGI report[1] was published in March 2007, and last updated in September of that year. It includes a Summary for Policymakers (SPM), which was published in February 2007, and a Frequently Asked Questions section.

This section of the report, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, assessed current scientific knowledge of "the natural and human drivers of climate change" as well as observed changes in climate. It looked at the ability of science to attribute changes to different causes, and made projections of future climate change.

It was produced by 676 authors (152 lead authors, 26 review editors, and 498 contributing authors) from 40 countries, then reviewed by over 625 expert reviewers. More than 6,000 peer-reviewed publications were cited.[6]

Before being approved, the summary was reviewed line by line by representatives of 113 governments during the 10th session of WGI, in January to February 2007.[7]

Very likely and likely mean "the assessed likelihood, using expert judgment" are over 90% and over 66%, respectively.[10]

The report notes many observed changes in the Earth's climate including atmospheric composition, global average temperatures, ocean conditions, and other climate changes.

Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are all long-lived greenhouse gases.

Cold days, cold nights, and frost events have become less frequent. Hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent. Additionally:

The SPM documents increases in wind intensity, decline of permafrost coverage, and increases of both drought and heavy precipitation events. Additionally:

Table SPM-2 lists recent trends along with certainty levels for the trend having actually occurred, for a human contribution to the trend, and for the trend occurring in the future. In relation to changes (including increased hurricane intensity) where the certainty of a human contribution is stated as "more likely than not" footnote f to table SPM-2 notes "Magnitude of anthropogenic contributions not assessed. Attribution for these phenomena based on expert judgment rather than formal attribution studies."

AR4 describes warming and cooling effects on the planet in terms of radiative forcing — the rate of change of energy in the system, measured as power per unit area (in SI units, W/m2). The report shows in detail the individual warming contributions (positive forcing) of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons, other human warming factors, and the warming effects of changes in solar activity. Also shown are the cooling effects (negative forcing) of aerosols, land-use changes, and other human activities. All values are shown as a change from pre-industrial conditions.

Climate sensitivity is defined as the amount of global average surface warming following a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations.[12] It is likely to be in the range of 2 to 4.5 °C, with a best estimate of about 3 °C.[12] This range of values is not a projection of the temperature rise we will see in the 21st century, since the future change in carbon dioxide concentrations is unknown, and factors besides carbon dioxide concentrations affect temperature.[12]

Model projections are made based on an analysis of various computer climate models running within the different scenarios that were established in 2000 in the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (the "SRES scenarios"). As a result, predictions for the 21st century are as shown below.

Scenario-specific projections are based on analysis of multiple runs by multiple climate models, using the various SRES Scenarios. "Low scenario" refers to B1, the most optimistic scenario family. "High scenario" refers to A1FI, the most pessimistic scenario family.

There are six families of SRES scenarios, and AR4 provides projected temperature and sea level rises (excluding future rapid dynamical changes in ice flow) for each scenario family.[16]

In the weeks before publication of the first report, controversy broke out about the report's projections of sea-level change, which in the new report was estimated at less than previous estimates. The now-published text gives a warning that the new estimation of sea-level could be too low: "Dynamical processes related to ice flow not included in current models but suggested by recent observations could increase the vulnerability of the ice sheets to warming, increasing future sea level rise." The mid-points of the sea level rise estimates are within ±10% of those from the TAR; but the range has narrowed.

Lord Rees, the president of the Royal Society, said, "This report makes it clear, more convincingly than ever before, that human actions are writ large on the changes we are seeing, and will see, to our climate. The IPCC strongly emphasises that substantial climate change is inevitable, and we will have to adapt to this. This should compel all of us — world leaders, businesses and individuals — towards action rather than the paralysis of fear. We need both to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Those who would claim otherwise can no longer use science as a basis for their argument."[17]

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a news conference that the report was "sound science" and "As the president has said, and this report makes clear, human activity is contributing to changes in our earth's climate and that issue is no longer up for debate."[18] Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, said, "We support the recent IPCC report, in which U.S. scientists played a leading role."[19]

Based on the report, 46 countries in a "Paris Call for Action" read out by French President Chirac, have called for the creation of a United Nations Environment Organization (UNEO), which is to have more power than the current United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and is to be modelled after the more powerful World Health Organization. The 46 countries included the European Union nations, but notably did not include the United States, China, Russia, and India, the top four emitters of greenhouse gases.[20]

Working Group II's Summary for Policymakers[21] was released on April 6, 2007. The full report was released September 18, 2007.

WGII states that "evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases."

Some observed changes have been associated with climate change at varying levels of confidence.

With a high confidence (about an 8 in 10 chance to be correct) WGII asserts that climate change has resulted in:

With a very high confidence (about a 9 in 10 chance to be correct) WGII asserts that climate change is affecting terrestrial biological systems in that:

WGII also states that the ocean has become more acidic because it has absorbed human-caused carbon dioxide. Ocean pH has dropped by 0.1, but how this affects marine life is not documented.

WGII acknowledges some of the difficulties of attributing specific changes to human-caused global warming, stating that "Limitations and gaps prevent more complete attribution of the causes of observed system responses to anthropogenic warming." but found that the agreement between observed and projected changes was "Nevertheless ... sufficient to conclude with high confidence that anthropogenic warming over the last three decades has had a discernible influence on many physical and biological systems."

WGII describes some of what might be expected in the coming century, based on studies and model projections.

It is projected with medium confidence (about 5 in 10 chance to be correct) that globally, potential food production will increase for temperature rises of 1–3 °C, but decrease for higher temperature ranges.

US negotiators managed to eliminate language calling for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, according to Patricia Romero Lankao, a lead author from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The original draft read: "However, adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, and especially not over the long run as most impacts increase in magnitude. Mitigation measures will therefore also be required." The second sentence does not appear in the final version of the report.[22]

China objected to wording that said "based on observed evidence, there is very high confidence that many natural systems, on all continents and in most oceans, are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases." When China asked that the word "very" be stricken, three scientific authors balked, and the deadlock was broken only by a compromise to delete any reference to confidence levels.[22]

Working Group III's Summary for Policymakers (SPM)[23] was published on 4 May 2007 at the 26th session of the IPCC.[24] The full WG III report was published online in September, 2007.[25]

The IPCC convened in Bangkok on April 30 to start discussions on the draft Summary, with the participation of over 400 scientists and experts from about 120 countries.[26] At the full IPCC meeting on May 4, agreement was reached by the larger gathering of some 2,000 delegates. One of the key debates concerned a proposal to limit concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to between 445 parts per million and 650 parts per million to avoid dangerous climate change, with pressure from developing countries to raise the lower limit. Despite this, the figures from the original proposal were incorporated into the Summary for Policymakers.[27] The Summary concludes that stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations is possible at a reasonable cost, with stabilization between 445ppm and 535ppm costing less than 3% of global GDP.[28]

The WG III report analyses mitigation options for the main sectors in the near-term, addressing also cross-sectorial matters such as synergies, co-benefits, and trade-offs. It also provides information on long-term mitigation strategies for various stabilization levels, paying special attention to implications of different short-term strategies for achieving long-term goals. [29]

The Summary for Policymakers concludes that there was a high level of agreement and much evidence that 'there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels',[30] taking into account financial and social costs and benefits.[31] The technologies with the largest economic potential within this timescale are considered to be:[32]

The IPCC estimates that stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases at between 445-535ppm CO
equivalent would result in a reduction of average annual GDP growth rates of less than 0.12%. Stabilizing at 535 to 590ppm would reduce average annual GDP growth rates by 0.1%, while stabilization at 590 to 710ppm would reduce rates by 0.06%.[33] There was high agreement and much evidence that a substantial fraction of these mitigation costs may be offset by benefits to health as a result of reduced air pollution, and that there would be further cost savings from other benefits such as increased energy security, increased agricultural production, and reduced pressure on natural ecosystems as well as, in certain countries, balance of trade improvements, provision of modern energy services to rural areas and employment.[34]

The IPCC considered that achieving these reductions would require a 'large shift in the pattern of investment, although the net additional investment required ranges from negligible to 5-10%'.They also concluded that it is often more cost effective to invest in end-use energy efficiency improvement than in increasing energy supply.[35]

In terms of electricity generation, the IPCC envisage that renewable energy can provide 30 to 35% of electricity by 2030 (up from 18% in 2005) at a carbon price of up to US$50/t, and that nuclear power can rise from 16% to 18%. They also warn that higher oil prices might lead to the exploitation of high-carbon alternatives such as oil sands, oil shales, heavy oils, and synthetic fuels from coal and gas, leading to increasing emissions, unless carbon capture and storage technologies are employed.[36]

In the transport sector there was a medium level of agreement and evidence that the multiple mitigation options may be counteracted by increased use, and that there were many barriers and a lack of government policy frameworks.[37]

There was high agreement and much evidence that, despite many barriers (particularly in the developing countries), new and existing buildings could reduce emissions considerably, and that this would also provide other benefits in terms of improved air quality, social welfare and energy security.[38]

The IPCC reported that the effectiveness of mitigation efforts over the next two or three decades would have a large impact on the ability to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases at lower levels, and that the lower the ultimate stabilization levels, the more quickly emissions would need to peak and decline.[39] For example, to stabilize at between 445 and 490ppm (resulting in an estimate global temperature 2 to 2.4 °C above the pre-industrial average) emissions would need to peak before 2015, with 50 to 85% reductions on 2000 levels by 2050.[40]

There was high agreement and much evidence that stabilization could be achieved by 2050 using currently available technologies, provided appropriate and effective incentives were put in place for their development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion, and that barriers were removed.[41] For stabilization at lower levels the IPCC agreed that improvements of carbon intensity need to be made much faster than has been the case in the past, and that there would be a greater need for efficient public and private research, development and demonstration efforts and investment in new technologies during the next few decades.[42] The IPCC points out that government funding in real absolute terms for most energy research programmes has been flat or declining for nearly 20 years, and is now about half the 1980 level.[43] Delays in cutting emissions would lead to higher stabilization levels and increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts, as more of the current high-emission technologies would have been deployed.[44]

Among the measures that might be used, there was high agreement and much evidence that policies that put a price on the cost of carbon emissions could provide incentives for consumers and producers. Carbon prices of 5 to 65 US$/tCO
in 2030 and 15 to 130 US$/tCO
by 2050 are envisaged for stabilization at around 550 ppm by 2100.[45]

A draft version of the Synthesis Report, said to be subject to final copyedit, was published on 16 November 2007.[46]

The Synthesis Report goes one step further [than the first three Climate Change 2007 Working Group Reports]: it is the decisive effort to integrate and compact this wealth of information into a readable and concise document explicitly targeted to the policymakers.

The Synthesis Report also brings in relevant parts some material contained in the full Working Group Reports over and above what is included in the Summary for Policymakers in these three Reports. It is designed to be a powerful, scientifically authoritative document of high policy relevance, which will be a major contribution to the discussions at the 13th Conference of the Parties in Bali during December 2007. In fact, this Conference was postponed to December to allow the IPCC Synthesis Report to come out first.

The "Convention" mentioned in Topic 5 is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The key findings from the AR4 Synthesis Report will be discussed Wednesday 13 December 2007[48] at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 13—CMP 3) in Bali, Indonesia, which takes place 3–14 December (see UNFCCC home page[49]).

Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible

The SPM states that "Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change."[citation needed]

The Fourth Assessment Report has been the subject of criticism. Skeptics of anthropogenic global warming contend that their claims are not sufficiently incorporated in the report. Others regard the IPCC as too conservative in its estimates of potential harm from climate change. The report has also been criticized for inclusion of an erroneous date for the projected demise of the Himalayan glaciers.

Related to the subject of global warming in general, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report has been discussed by various bodies such as government officials, special interest groups and scientific organizations; see the article "Politics of global warming" for a thorough discussion of the politics surrounding the phenomenon, and the positions of the various parties involved.

The United Nations appointed an independent board of scientists to "review the workings of the world's top climate science panel" which reported in September 2010;[50] see .

The Fourth Assessment Report consists of the following reports from each of the three Working Groups, and a Synthesis Report. Additional reports and documents can be found at the IPCC's .