New IPCC Report Leaked: Humans Cause Global Warming, Global Warming Consequences speeding up

by Joe Romm, PhD — Special to JBS News

Originally published on Climate Progress.

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming over the next century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature, much of which is reviewed in the new IPCC report.)

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming over the next century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature, much of which is reviewed in the new IPCC report.)

The Fifth — and hopefully final — Assessment Report (AR5) from the UN Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) is due next month. The leaks are already here:

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the UN panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities – chiefly the burning of fossil fuels – are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

This is a doubly impressive story since, as we’ve reported, Reuters has slashed climate coverage and pressured reporters to include false balance. Leading climatologists who have seen drafts of the report confirm this story’s accuracy.

Of course, nothing in the report should be a surprise to readers of Climate Progress, since the AR5 is just a (partial) review of the scientific literature (see my 12/11 post, It’s “Extremely Likely That at Least 74% of Observed Warming Since 1950″ Was Manmade; It’s Highly Likely All of It Was). The draft AR5 confirms that natural forces played a very small role in warming since 1950, which again means that human activity is highly likely be a source of virtually all of the recent warming.

I say the AR5 is a “partial” review that is “hopefully” the last because, like every IPCC report, it is an instantly out-of-date snapshot that lowballs future warming because it continues to ignore large parts of the recent literature and omit what it can’t model. For instance, we have known for years that perhaps the single most important carbon-cycle feedback is the thawing of the northern permafrost. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment climate models completely ignore it, thereby lowballing likely warming this century.

No doubt some in the media will continue to focus on the largely irrelevant finding that the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) may be a tad lower than expected.

In terms of real world warming and its impact on humans, the ECS is a mostly theoretical and oversimplified construct — like the so-called spherical cow. The ECS tells you how much warming you would get IF we started slashing emissions asap and stabilized carbon dioxide concentrations in the air around 550 parts per million (they are currently at 400 ppm, rising over 2 ppm a year, and accelerating) — AND IF there were no slow feedbacks like the defrosting permafrost.

The climate however is not a spherical cow. Every climate scientist I’ve spoken to has said we will blow past 550 ppm if we continue to put off action. Indeed, we’re on track for well past 800 ppm. And a 2012 study found that the carbon feedback from the thawing permafrost alone will likely add 0.4°F – 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100.

So the alarming disruption in our previously stable, civilization-supporting climate depicted in the top figure is our future. On our current emissions path, the main question the ECS answers is whether 9°F warming happens closer to 2080, 2100, or 2120 — hardly a cause for any celebration. Quite the reverse. Warming beyond 7F is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4°C [7F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level,” as climate expert Kevin Anderson explains here.

Dr. Michael Mann emailed me:

The report is simply an exclamation mark on what we already knew: Climate change is real and it continues unabated, the primary cause is fossil fuel burning, and if we don’t do something to reduce carbon emissions we can expect far more dangerous and potentially irreversible impacts on us and our environment in the decades to come.

As for the seeming slowdown in global warming, that turns out to be only true if one looks narrowly at surface air temperatures, where only a small fraction of warming ends up. Arctic sea ice melt has accelerated. Disintegration of the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica has sped up. The rate of sea level rise has doubled from last century.

Finally, very recent studies of the ocean, which has absorbed the vast majority of the heat, also show global warming has accelerated in the past 15 years. Sadly, the AR5 appears to have stopped considering new scientific findings before the publication of this research.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Reuters notes that climate scientists are “finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.” This regional uncertainty is not surprising but still quite alarming. Indeed, it is a key reason adaptation to climate change is so much more difficult and expensive than simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, if you don’t know where the next super-storm or super-heatwave is going to hit, you pretty much have to prepare everywhere. As a major 2011 study by Sandia National Laboratory concluded, “It is the uncertainty associated with climate change that validates the need to act protectively and proactively.” That study found because of “climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone, the U.S. economy is at risk of losing” a trillion dollars and 7 million American jobs over the next several decades.

On this point, climatologist Kevin Trenberth e-mailed me:

“We can confidently say that the risk of drought and heat waves has gone up and the odds of a hot spot somewhere on the planet have increased but the hotspot moves around and the location is not very predictable. This year perhaps it is East Asia: China, or earlier Siberia? It has been much wetter and cooler in the US (except for SW), whereas last year the hot spot was the US. Earlier this year it was Australia (Tasmania etc) in January (southern summer). We can name spots for all summers going back quite a few years: Australia in 2009, the Russian heat wave in 2010, Texas in 2011, etc.

Similarly with risk of high rains and floods: They are occurring but the location moves.”

The point is, we know that many kinds of off-the-charts extreme weather events will get more intense, longer lasting, and more frequent — in fact, they already are. But we don’t know exactly where and when they will hit, which means adaptation requires pretty much everybody, everywhere to plan the worst-case. Just when you think the Jersey shore is very unlikely to be hit by a superstorm, along comes Sandy.

I very much doubt the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report will move the needle on climate action because of its inadequacies; because the media has scaled back climate coverage and let go of its best climate reporters; and because the fossil fuel funded disinformation campaign will try to exploit those first two problems to make it seem like this report gives us less to worry about, when it simply underscores what we have known for a quarter-century. Continued inaction on climate change risks the end of modern civilization as we know it.

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3 thoughts on “New IPCC Report Leaked: Humans Cause Global Warming, Global Warming Consequences speeding up

  1. roberta4949 August 20, 2013 / 07:36

    funny I never knew man was so powerful and the earth and it’s systems were so fragile, I mean the climate, atompshere etc dealt with metorites and blasts from the sun and all kinds of space things massive volcanic eruptions, severe storms, that are so much more powerful then we ever could be, it has dealt with temp extremes in the past (you know those crittors we call dinoasaurs honey? they needed a very warm earth with vast growth of plants to live for those millions of years)and sudden freeze where mammoths are found totally frozen intact and edible upon thawing (time life books words not mine of the early 1970s)this required sudden freeze in order to freeze fast enough before rot set in, frozen orange and lemon trees in siberia still intact enough to id easily, in fact there was a global deluge which wiped out entire animals and yet here we are, still here, how do you explain that? and how much co2 did you suppose there was for those massive plants the dinosaurs ate? and why does co2 do such wonders for the plants in our aquirum (using a co2 feeder?) the fish seem very happy with the arrangement and in fact their colors are just so vivid. and where does your oxygen come from? just something to think about before believing the lies that comes out of the mouths of power money hungry un people who vote for these things who are mostly from poor countries who envy the richers nations prosperity and covet them. ( of course they want it without actually earning it nothing new there) life has been on this planet for millions of years and it will be here for millions more, so I wouldn’t worry about man’s causing anything like global warming (and why is a warmer earth not human friendly? never hurt us before did it?)there are more pressing issues going on that have nothing to do with co2 emissions and everything to do with manmade problems like poverty, wars, injustice and the like these are your real manmade global burning.

  2. John Brian Shannon August 20, 2013 / 17:56

    Well, I guess you have made up your own mind to not believe in climate change — and that is your right.

    But 97% of the scientists that testified before Congress last spring (under oath) said that climate change is real and is a threat to our planet.

    Not just those scientists, but NASA scientists, and other scientists from around the world, believe that climate change is real.

    Here is an interesting website for you to look at regarding climate change:

    Best regards, JBS

  3. roberta4949 August 21, 2013 / 02:30

    putting faith in this scientists who have a strong financial incentive to say the party line, is a dangerous thing to do, lets say there is global warming first of all there is nothing one can do about it, the earth at one time was way warmer then it is now and second which is more human and animal and plant friendly a cooler earth or a warmer earth? there will always be cold enough poles and warm enough equater to still have hurricans and storms and floods and the like, a warmer earth only means the storms will be in less severe as the contrast between warm and cold will be less, but not really enough to cause any worse storms then now it is far cheaper and more freedom friendly to just prepare for it then to try and mitigate a system where we have little if any control, too often in the halls of power people have a strong incentive to lie, for those who want a certain agenda to go forth to only invite people into congress for example who will help convince others who don’t believe it something to start to believe in it using one of the tactics of quieting dissent, appeal to authority. this is one of the things for example that the religous leaders tried to use against jesus and the apostles the fact that they did not go to the special collages and did not have a degree in religious truth, they were called ordinary men and unlettered. a shame really allowing this authority of subject attire to blind people to facts as presented by those who do not hold special titles. And there are many scientists who say global warming is a frace, so one has to decide for themselves what makes sense, if one takes a few basical chemistry classes does a little history fact finding will see that co2 is not a pollutant and people are falling for the sky is falling tactic again that has been used in millieniums to achieve poltical goals of the times. frankly I do hope there is warming I hate the winters and a warmer winter would be a blessing not a curse. storms aren going to get worse or better either way. and don’t worry the pole ice is not going anyway, the poles still will get 2 months of total darkness every winter and no amount of warming will be able to raise the temp enough to keep them from freezing with no sun for 2 months.

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