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

Characterising future climate

Sensitivity studies

A substantial number of model-based CCIAV studies assessed in this Report employ sensitivity analysis to investigate the behaviour of a system by assuming arbitrary, often regularly spaced, adjustments in important driving variables. Using a range of perturbations allows construction of impact response surfaces, which are increasingly being used in combination with probabilistic representations of future climate to assess risks of impacts [2.4.3, 2.3.1, 2.4.8].


Historical extreme weather events, such as floods, heatwaves and droughts, are increasingly being analysed with respect to their impacts and adaptive responses. Such studies can be useful for planning adaptation responses, especially if these events become more frequent and/or severe in the future. Spatial analogues (regions having a present-day climate similar to that expected in a study region in the future) have been adopted as a heuristic device for analysing economic impacts, adaptation needs and risks to biodiversity [2.4.4].

Climate model data

The majority of quantitative CCIAV studies assessed in the AR4 use climate models to generate the underlying scenarios of climate change. Some scenarios are based on pre-SRES emissions scenarios, such as IS92a, or even on equilibrium climate model experiments. However, the greatest proportion is derived from SRES emissions scenarios, principally the A2 scenario (assuming high emissions), for which the majority of early SRES-based climate model experiments were conducted. A few scenario-driven studies explore singular events with widespread consequences, such as an abrupt cessation of the North Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) [, 2.4.7].

The CCIAV studies assessed in the Working Group II Fourth Assessment (WGII AR4) are generally based on climate model simulations assessed by Working Group I (WGI) in the TAR. Since the TAR, new simulations have been performed with coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) assuming SRES emissions. These are assessed in the WGI AR4, but most were not available for the CCIAV studies assessed for the WGII AR4. Figure TS.3 compares the range of regional temperature and precipitation projections from recent A2-forced AOGCM simulations (assessed by WGI AR4: red bars) with earlier A2-forced simulations assessed in WGI TAR and used for scenario construction in many CCIAV studies assessed for the WGII AR4 (blue bars). The figure supports the WGI AR4 conclusion that the basic pattern of projected warming is little changed from previous assessments (note the positions of the blue and red bars), but confidence in regional projections is now higher for most regions for temperature and in some regions for precipitation (i.e., where red bars are shorter than blue bars) [B2.3].

Figure TS.3

Figure TS.3. Range of winter and summer temperature and precipitation changes up to the end of the 21st century across recent (fifteen models – red bars) and pre-TAR (seven models – blue bars) AOGCM projections under the SRES A2 emissions scenarios for thirty-two world regions, expressed as rate of change per century. Mauve and green bars show modelled 30-year natural variability. Numbers on precipitation plots show the number of recent A2 runs giving negative/positive precipitation change. DJF: December, January, February; JJA: June, July, August. [F2.6, which includes map of regions]