IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

E. Systematic observing and research needs

Although the science to provide policymakers with information about climate change impacts and adaptation potential has improved since the Third Assessment, it still leaves many important questions to be answered. The chapters of the Working Group II Fourth Assessment include a number of judgements about priorities for further observation and research, and this advice should be considered seriously (a list of these recommendations is given in the Technical Summary Section TS.6).

Endbox 1. Definitions of key terms

Climate change in IPCC usage refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. This usage differs from that in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, where climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences.

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

Endbox 2. Communication of Uncertainty in the Working Group II Fourth Assessment

A set of terms to describe uncertainties in current knowledge is common to all parts of the IPCC Fourth Assessment.

Description of confidence

Authors have assigned a confidence level to the major statements in the Summary for Policymakers on the basis of their assessment of current knowledge, as follows:

 Terminology Degree of confidence in being correct 
 Very high confidence At least 9 out of 10 chance of being correct 
 High confidence About 8 out of 10 chance 
 Medium confidence About 5 out of 10 chance 
 Low confidence About 2 out of 10 chance 
 Very low confidence Less than a 1 out of 10 chance 

Description of likelihood

Likelihood refers to a probabilistic assessment of some well-defined outcome having occurred or occurring in the future, and may be based on quantitative analysis or an elicitation of expert views. In the Summary for Policymakers, when authors evaluate the likelihood of certain outcomes, the associated meanings are:

 Virtually certain >99% probability of occurrence 
 Very likely 90 to 99% probability 
 Likely 66 to 90% probability 
 About as likely as not 33 to 66% probability 
 Unlikely 10 to 33% probability 
 Very unlikely 1 to 10% probability 
 Exceptionally unlikely <1% probability 

Endbox 3. The Emissions Scenarios of the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES)

A1. The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. Major underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building and increased cultural and social interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family develops into three groups that describe alternative directions of technological change in the energy system. The three A1 groups are distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil intensive (A1FI), non fossil energy sources (A1T), or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defined as not relying too heavily on one particular energy source, on the assumption that similar improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end use technologies).

A2. The A2 storyline and scenario family describes a very heterogeneous world. The underlying theme is self reliance and preservation of local identities. Fertility patterns across regions converge very slowly, which results in continuously increasing population. Economic development is primarily regionally oriented and per capita economic growth and technological change more fragmented and slower than other storylines.

B1. The B1 storyline and scenario family describes a convergent world with the same global population, that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, as in the A1 storyline, but with rapid change in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource efficient technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability, including improved equity, but without additional climate initiatives.

B2. The B2 storyline and scenario family describes a world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability. It is a world with continuously increasing global population, at a rate lower than A2, intermediate levels of economic development, and less rapid and more diverse technological change than in the B1 and A1 storylines. While the scenario is also oriented towards environmental protection and social equity, it focuses on local and regional levels.

An illustrative scenario was chosen for each of the six scenario groups A1B, A1FI, A1T, A2, B1 and B2. All should be considered equally sound.

The SRES scenarios do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that explicitly assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol.