In the six years since the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (TAR), significant progress has been made in understanding past and recent climate change and in projecting future changes. These advances have arisen from large amounts of new data, more sophisticated analyses of data, improvements in the understanding and simulation of physical processes in climate models and more extensive exploration of uncertainty ranges in model results. The increased confidence in climate science provided by these developments is evident in this Working Group I contribution to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.
While this report provides new and important policy-relevant information on the scientific understanding of climate change, the complexity of the climate system and the multiple interactions that determine its behaviour impose limitations on our ability to understand fully the future course of Earth’s global climate. There is still an incomplete physical understanding of many components of the climate system and their role in climate change. Key uncertainties include aspects of the roles played by clouds, the cryosphere, the oceans, land use and couplings between climate and biogeochemical cycles. The areas of science covered in this report continue to undergo rapid progress and it should be recognised that the present assessment reflects scientific understanding based on the peer-reviewed literature available in mid-2006.
The key findings of the IPCC Working Group I assessment are presented in the Summary for Policymakers. This Technical Summary provides a more detailed overview of the scientific basis for those findings and provides a road map to the chapters of the underlying report. It focuses on key findings, highlighting what is new since the TAR. The structure of the Technical Summary is as follows:
- Section 2: an overview of current scientific understanding of the natural and anthropogenic drivers of changes in climate;
- Section 3: an overview of observed changes in the climate system (including the atmosphere, oceans and cryosphere) and their relationships to physical processes;
- Section 4: an overview of explanations of observed climate changes based on climate models and physical understanding, the extent to which climate change can be attributed to specific causes and a new evaluation of climate sensitivity to greenhouse gas increases;
- Section 5: an overview of projections for both near- and far-term climate changes including the time scales of responses to changes in forcing, and probabilistic information about future climate change; and
- Section 6: a summary of the most robust findings and the key uncertainties in current understanding of physical climate change science.
Each paragraph in the Technical Summary reporting substantive results is followed by a reference in curly brackets to the corresponding chapter section(s) of the underlying report where the detailed assessment of the scientific literature and additional information can be found.