Committed warming inferred from observations and an energy balance model

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 13:40
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Due to the lifetime of CO2 and thermal inertia of the ocean, the Earth’s climate is not equilibrated with anthropogenic forcing. As a result, even if fossil fuel emissions were to suddenly cease, some level of committed warming is expected due to past emissions. Here, we provide an observational-based quantification of this committed warming using the instrument record of global-mean warming, recently-improved estimates of Earth’s energy imbalance, and estimates of radiative forcing from the fifth IPCC assessment report. Compared to pre-industrial levels, we find a committed warming of 1.5K [0.9-3.6, 5-95 percentile] at equilibrium, and of 1.3K [0.9-2.3] within this century. However, when assuming that ocean carbon uptake cancels remnant greenhouse gas-induced warming on centennial timescales, committed warming is reduced to 1.1K [0.7-1.8]. Conservatively, there is a 32% risk that committed warming already exceeds the 1.5K target set in Paris, and that this will likely be crossed prior to 2053. Regular updates of these observationally-constrained committed warming estimates, though simplistic, can provide transparent guidance as uncertainty regarding transient climate sensitivity inevitably narrows and understanding the limitations of the framework is advanced.

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