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Possible consequences of future interference


In the absence of mitigation policies or significant technological advances that reduce emissions and/or enhance sinks, concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols are expected to grow throughout the next century. The IPCC has developed a range of scenarios , IS92 a-f, of future greenhouse gas and acrosol precursor emissions based on assumptions concerning population and economic growth, land-use, technological changes, energy availability and fuel mix during the period 1990 to 2100ʻ. By the year 2100, carbon dioxide emissions under these scenarios are projected to be in the range of about 6 GTCS per year, roughly equal to current emissions, to as much as 36 GTC per year, with the lower end of the IPCC range assuming low population and economic growth to 2100. Methane emissions are projected to be in the range 540 to 1170 Tg* CH. per year (1990 emissions were about 500 Tg CH.); nitrous oxide emissions are projected to be in the range 14 to 19 Tg N per year (1990 emissions were about 13 Tg N). In all cases, the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and total radiative forcing continue to increase throughout the simulation period of 1990 to 2100.


2.7 For the mid-range IPCC emission scenario, IS92a, assuming the "best estimate" value of climate sensitivity and including the effects of future increases in aerosol concentrations, models project an increase in global mean surface temperature relative to 1990 of about 2°C by 2100. This estimate is approximately one third lower than the “best estimate" in 1990. This is due primarily to lower emission scenarios (particularly for CO2 and CFCs), the inclusion of the cooling effect of sulphate aerosols, and improvements in the treatment of the carbon cycle. Combining the lowest IPCC emission scenario (IS92c) with a "low" value of climate sensitivity and including the effects of future changes in aerosol concentrations leads to a projected increase of about 1°C by 2100. The corresponding projection for the highest IPCC scenario (1892e) combined with a "high" value of climate sensitivity gives a warming of about 3.5°C. In all cases the average rate of warming would probably be greater than any seen in the last 10,000 years, but the actual annual to decadal changes would include considerable natural variability. Regional temperature changes could differ substantially from the global mean value. Because of the thermal inertia of the oceans, only 50-90% of the eventual equilibrium temperature change would have been realised by 2100 and temperature would continue to increase beyond 2100, even if concentration of greenhouse gases were stabilised by that time.

2.8 Average sea level is expected to rise as a result of thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice-sheets. For the IS92a scenario, assuming the “best estimate" values

See table SPM-1 in the Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Working Group II.

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To convert GC (gigatonnes of carbon or thousand million tonnes of carbon) to mass of carbon dioxide, multiply GC by 3.67.

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In IPCC reports, climate sensitivity usually refers to the long term (equilibrium) change in global mean surface temperature following a doubling of aonospheric equivalent CO, concentration. More generally, it refers to the equilibrium change in surface air temperature following a unit

of climate sensitivity and of ice melt sensitivity to warming, and including the effects of future changes in aerosol concentrations, models project an increase in sea level of about 50 cm from the present to 2100. This estimate is approximately 25% lower than the “best estimate" in 1990 due to the lower temperature projection, but also reflecting improvements in the climate and ice melt models. Combining the lowest emission scenario (1892c) with the “low" climate and ice melt sensitivities and including aerosol effects gives a projected sea level rise of about 15 cm from the present to 2100. The corresponding projection for the highest emission scenario (IS92e) combined with “high"climate and ice-melt sensitivities gives a sea level rise of about 95 cm from the present to 2100. Sea level would continue to rise at a similar rate in future centuries beyond 2100, even if concentrations of greenhouse gases were stabilised by that time, and would continue to do so even beyond the time of stabilisation of global mean temperature. Regional sea level changes may differ from the global mean value owing to land movement and ocean current cbanges.

2.9 Confidence is higher in the hemispheric-to-continental scale projections of coupled atmosphere-ocean climate models than in the regional projections, where confidence remains low. There is more confidence in temperature projections than hydrological changes.

2.10 All model simulations, whether they were forced with increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols or with increased concentrations of greenhouse gases alone, show the following features: greater surface warming of the land than of the sea in winter, a maximum surface warming in high northern latitudes in winter, little surface warming over the Arctic in summer; an enhanced global mean hydrological cycle, and increased precipitation and soil moisture in high latitudes in winter. All these changes are associated with identifiable physical mechanisms.

2.11 Warmer temperatures will lead to a more vigorous hydrological cycle; this translates into prospects for more severe droughts and/or floods in some places and less severe droughts and/or floods in other places. Several models indicate an increase in precipitation intensity, suggesting a possibility for more extreme rainfall events. Knowledge is currently insufficient to say whether there will be any changes in the occurrence or geographical distribucion of severe storms, e.g., tropical cyclones.

2.12 There are many uncertainties and many factors currently limit our ability to project and detect future climate change. Future unexpected, large and rapid climate system changes (as have occurred in the past) are, by their nature difficult to predict. This implies that future climate changes may also involve “surprises”. In particular, these arise from the non-linear nature of the climate system. When rapidly forced, non-linear systems are especially subject to unexpected behaviour. Progress can be made by investigating non-linear processes and sub-components of the climatic system. Examples of such non-linear behaviour include rapid circulation changes in the North Auantic and feedbacks associated with terrestrial ecosystem changes.



3.1 This section provides scientific and technical information that can be used, inter alia, in evaluating whether the projected range of plausible impacts constitutes "dangerous

anthropogenic interference with the climate system“, as referred to in Article 2, and in evaluating adaptation options. However, it is not yet possible to link particular impacts with specific atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.


Human health, terrestrial and aquatic ecological systems, and socioeconomic systems (e.g., agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and water resources) are all vital to human development and well-being and are all sensitive to both the magnitude and the rate of climate change. Whereas many regions are likely to experience the adverse effects of climate change - some of which are potentially irreversible - some effects of climate change are likely to be beneficial. Hence, different segments of society can expect to confront a variety of changes and the need to adapt to them.

3.3 Human-induced climate change represents an important additional stress, particularly to the many ecological and socioeconomic systems already affected by pollution, increasing resource demands, and non-sustainable management practices. The vulnerability of human health and socioeconomic systems - and, to a lesser extent, ecological systems - depends upon economic circumstances and institutional infrastructure. This implies that systems typically are more vulnerable in developing countries where economic and institutional circumstances are less favourable.


Although our knowledge has increased significantly during the last decade and qualitative estimates can be developed, quantitative projections of the impacts of climate change on any particular system at any particular location are difficult because regional-scale climate change projections are uncertain; our current understanding of many critical processes is limited; systems are subject to multiple climatic and non-climatic stresses, the interactions of which are not always linear or additive; and very few studies have considered dynamic responses to steadily increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases or the consequences of increases beyond a doubling of equivalent atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

-3.5 Unambiguous detection of climate-induced changes in most ecological and social systems will prove extremely difficult in the coming decades. This is because of the complexity of these systems, their many non-linear feedbacks, and their sensitivity to a large number of climatic and Don-climatic factors, all of which are expected to continue to change simultaneously. As future climate extends beyond the boundaries of empirical knowledge (i.c., the documented impacts of climate variation in the past), it becomes more likely that actual outcomes will include surprises and unanticipated rapid changes.

Sensitivity of Systems

Terrestrial and Aquaric Ecosystems


Ecosystems contain the Earth's entire reservoir of genetic and species diversity and provide many goods and services including: (i) providing food, fibre, medicines, and energy; (ü) processing and storing carbon and other nutrients; (iii) assimilating wastes, purifying water, regulating water runoff, and controlling floods, soil degradation and beach erosion; and (iv) providing opportunities for recreation and tourism. The composition and geographic distribution

of many ecosystems (e.g., forests, rangelands, deserts, mountain systems, lakes, wetlands, and oceans) will shift as individual species respond to changes in climate; there will likely be reductions in biological diversity and in the goods and services that ecosystems provide society. Some ecological systems may not reach a new equilibrium for several centuries after the climate achieves a new balance. This section illustrates the impact of climate change on a number of selected ecological systems.


Forests: Models project that as a consequence of possible changes in temperature and water availability under doubled equivalent CO2 equilibrium conditions, a substantial fraction (a global average of one-third, varying by region from one-seventh to two-thirds) of the existing forested area of the world will undergo major changes in broad vegetation types - with the greatest changes occurring in high latitudes and the least in the tropics. Climate change is expected to occur at a rapid rate relative to the speed at which forest species grow, reproduce, and reestablish themselves. Therefore, the species composition of forests is likely to change; entire forest types may disappear, while new assemblages of species and hence new ecosystems may be established. Large amounts of carbon could be released into the atmosphere during transitions from one forest type to another because the rate at which carbon can be lost during times of high forest mortality is greater than the rate at which it can be gained through growth to maturity.

3.8 Deserts and desertification: Deserts are likely to become more extreme - in that, with few exceptions, they are projected to become hotter but not significantly wetter. Temperature increases could be a threat to organisms that exist near their heat tolerance limits. Desertification - land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities - is more likely to become irreversible if the environment becomes drier and the soil becomes further degraded through erosion and compaction.

3.9 Mountain ecosystems: The altitudinal distribution of vegetation is projected to shift to higher elevation; some species with climatic ranges limited to mountain tops could become extinct because of disappearance of habitat or reduced migration potential.

3.10 Aquatic and coastal ecosystems: In lakes and streams, warming would have the greatest biological effects at high latitudes, where biological productivity would increase, and at the low-latitude boundaries of cold- and coolwater species ranges, where extinctions would be greatest. The geographical distribution of wetlands is likely to shift with changes in temperature and precipitation. Coastal systems are economically and ecologically important and are expected to vary widely in their response to changes in climate and sea level. Some coastal ecosystems are particularly at risk, including saltwater marshes, mangrove ecosystems, coastal wetlands, sandy beaches, coral reefs, coral atolls, and river deltas. Changes in these ecosystems would have major negative effects on tourism, freshwater supplies, fisheries, and biodiversity.

See paragraph 4.17 for a description of "equivalent CO“.

Hydrology and Water Resources Management

3.11 Models project that between one-third and one-balf of existing mountain glacier mass could disappear over the next hundred years. The reduced extent of glaciers and depth of snow cover also would affect the seasonal distribution of river flow and water supply for hydroelectric generation and agriculture. Anticipated hydrological changes and reductions in the areal extent and depth of permafrost could lead to large-scale damage to infrastructure, an additional flux of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and changes in processes that contribute to the flux of methane into the atmosphere.

3.12 Climate change will lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle and can bave major impacts on regional water resources. Changes in the total amount of precipitation and in its frequency and intensity directly affect the magnitude and timing of runoff and the intensity of floods and droughts; however, at present, specific regional effects are uncertain. Relatively small changes in temperature and precipitation, together with the non-linear effects on evapotranspiration and soil moisture, can result in relatively large changes in runoff, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. The quantity and quality of water supplies already are serious problems today in many regions, including some low-lying coastal areas, deltas, and small islands, making countries in these regions particularly vulnerable to any additional reduction in indigenous water supplies.

Agriculture and Forestry 3.13 crop yields and changes in productivity due to climate change will vary considerably across regions and among localities, thus changing the patterns of production. Productivity is projected to increase in some areas and decrease in others, especially the tropics and subtropics. Existing studies show that on the whole, global agricultural production could be maintained relative to baseline production in the face of climate change projected under doubled equivalent CO, equilibrium conditions. This conclusion takes into account the beneficial effects of CQ - fertilization but does not allow for changes in agricultural pests and the possible effects of changing climatic variability. However, focusing on global agricultural production does not address the potentially serious consequences of large differences at local and regional scales, even at mid-latitudes. There may be increased risk of hunger and famine in some locations; many of the world's poorest people - particularly those living in subtropical and tropical areas and dependent on isolated agricultural systems in semi-arid and arid regions - are most at risk of increased hunger. Global wood supplies during the next century may become increasingly inadequate to meet projected consumption due to both climatic and non-climatic factors.

Human Infrastructure

3.14 Climate change clearly will increase the vulnerability of some coastal populations to flooding and erosional land loss. Estimates put about 46 million people per year currently at risk of flooding due to storm surges. In the absence of adaptation measures, and not taking into account anticipated population growth, 50-cm sea-level rise would increase this number to about 92 million; a l-meter sea-level rise would raise it to about 118 million. Studies using a l-meter projection show a particular risk for small islands and deltas. This increase is at the top range of

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