D.2 Quantification of Climate System Responses

Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing. {Box 12.2, Box 13.1}


  • The net feedback from the combined effect of changes in water vapour, and differences between atmospheric and surface warming is extremely likely positive and therefore amplifies changes in climate. The net radiative feedback due to all cloud types combined is likely positive. Uncertainty in the sign and magnitude of the cloud feedback is due primarily to continuing uncertainty in the impact of warming on low clouds. {7.2}


  • The equilibrium climate sensitivity quantifies the response of the climate system to constant radiative forcing on multi-century time scales. It is defined as the change in global mean surface temperature at equilibrium that is caused by a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is likely in the range 1.5°C to 4.5°C (high confidence), extremely unlikely less than 1°C (high confidence), and very unlikely greater than 6°C (medium confidence)16. The lower temperature limit of the assessed likely range is thus less than the 2°C in the AR4, but the upper limit is the same. This assessment reflects improved understanding, the extended temperature record in the atmosphere and ocean, and new estimates of radiative forcing. {TFE6.1, Figure 1; Box 12.2}


  • The rate and magnitude of global climate change is determined by radiative forcing, climate feedbacks and the storage of energy by the climate system. Estimates of these quantities for recent decades are consistent with the assessed likely range of  the equilibrium climate sensitivity to within assessed uncertainties, providing strong evidence for our understanding of anthropogenic climate change. {Box 12.2, Box 13.1}


  • The transient climate response quantifies the response of the climate system to an increasing radiative forcing on a decadal to century timescale. It is defined as the change in global mean surface temperature at the time when the atmospheric CO2  concentration has doubled in a scenario of concentration increasing at 1% per year. The transient climate response is likely in the range of 1.0°C to 2.5°C (high confidence) and extremely unlikely greater than 3°C. {Box 12.2}


  • A related quantity is the transient climate response to cumulative carbon emissions (TCRE). It quantifies the transient response of the climate system to cumulative carbon emissions (see Section E.8). TCRE is defined as the global mean surface temperature change per 1000 GtC emitted to the atmosphere. TCRE is likely in the range of 0.8°C to 2.5°C per 1000 GtC and applies for cumulative emissions up to about 2000 GtC until the time temperatures peak (see Figure SPM.9). {12.5, Box 12.2}


  • Various metrics can be used to compare the contributions to climate change of emissions of different substances. The most appropriate metric and time horizon will depend on which aspects of climate change are considered most important to a particular application. No single metric  can  accurately  compare  all  consequences  of  different  emissions,  and  all  have limitations and uncertainties. Global Warming Potential is based on the cumulative radiative forcing over a particular time horizon, and the Global Temperature change Potential is based on the change in global mean surface temperature at a chosen point in time. Updated values are provided in this Report. {8.7}
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