in previous IPCC reports. The increase of global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions in the past decade has averaged 0.6% per year, which is somewhat below the range of IPCC scenarios, and the same is true for atmospheric methane concentrations. It is not known whether these slowdowns in growth rate will persist.
How much of the expected climate change is the consequence of climate feedback processes (e.g., water vapor, clouds, snow packs)?
The contribution of feedbacks to the climate change depends upon “climate sensitivity,” as described in the report. If a central estimate of climate sensitivity is used, about 40% of the predicted warming is due to the direct effects of greenhouse gases and aerosols. The other 60% is caused by feedbacks. Water vapor feedback (the additional greenhouse effect accruing from increasing concentrations of atmospheric water vapor as the atmosphere warms) is the most important feedback in the models. Unless the relative humidity in the tropical middle and upper troposphere drops, this effect is expected to increase the temperature response to increases in human induced greenhouse gas concentrations by a factor of 1.6. The ice-albedo feedback (the reduction in the fraction of incoming solar radiation reflected back to space as snow and ice cover recede) also is believed to be important. Together, these two feedbacks amplify the simulated climate response to the greenhouse gas forcing by a factor of 2.5. In addition, changes in cloud cover, in the relative amounts of high versus low clouds, and in the mean and vertical distribution of relative humidity could either enhance or reduce the amplitude of the warming. Much of the difference in predictions of global warming by various climate models is attributable to the fact that each model represents these processes in its own particular way. These uncertainties will remain until a more fundamental understanding of the processes that control atmospheric relative humidity and clouds is achieved.
What will be the consequences (e.g., extreme weather, health effects) of increases of various magnitude?
In the near term, agriculture and forestry are likely to benefit from carbon dioxide fertilization and an increased water efficiency of some plants at higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The optimal climate for crops may change, requiring significant regional adaptations. Some models project an increased tendency toward drought over semi-arid regions, such as the U.S. Great Plains. Hydrologic impacts could be significant over the western United States, where much of the water supply is dependent on the amount of snow pack and the timing of the spring runoff. Increased rainfall rates could impact pollution run-off and flood control. With higher sea level, coastal regions could be subject to increased wind and flood damage even if tropical storms do not change in intensity. A significant warming also could have far reaching implications for ecosystems. The costs and risks involved are difficult to quantify at this point and are, in any case, beyond the scope of this brief report.
Health outcomes in response to climate change are the subject of intense debate. Climate is one of a number of factors influencing the incidence of infectious disease. Cold-related stress would decline in a warmer climate, while heat stress and smog induced respiratory illnesses in major urban areas would increase, if no adaptation occurred. Over much of the United States, adverse health outcomes would likely be mitigated by a strong public health system, relatively high levels of public awareness, and a high standard of living.
Global warming could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century, especially if globally-averaged temperature increases approach the upper end of the IPCC projections. Even in the more conservative scenarios, the models project temperatures and sea levels that continue to increase well beyond the end of this century, suggesting that assessments that examine only the next 100 years may well underestimate the magnitude of the eventual impacts.
Has science determined whether there is a “safe” level of concentration of greenhouse gases?
The question of whether there exists a “safe” level of concentration of greenhouse gases cannot be answered directly because it would require a value judgment of what constitutes an acceptable risk to human welfare and ecosystems in various parts of the world, as well as a more quantitative assessment of the risks and costs associated with the various impacts of global warming. In general, however, risk increases with increases in both the rate and the magnitude of climate change.
What are the substantive differences between the IPCC Reports and the Summaries?
The committee finds that the full IPCC Working Group I (WGI) report is an admirable summary of research activities in climate science, and the full report is adequately summarized in the Technical Summary. The full WGI report and its Technical Summary are not specifically directed at policy. The Summary for Policymakers reflects less emphasis on communicating the basis for uncertainty and a stronger emphasis on areas of major concern associated with human-induced climate change. This change in emphasis appears to be the result of a summary process in which scientists work with policy makers on the document. Written responses from U.S. coordinating and lead scientific authors to the committee indicate, however, that (a) no changes were made without the consent of the convening lead authors (this group represents a fraction of the lead and contributing authors) and (b) most changes that did occur lacked significant impact.
It is critical that the IPCC process remain truly representative of the scientific community. The committee's concerns