IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

2.1 Introduction and Scope

This chapter updates information taken from Chapters 3 to 6 of the IPCC Working Group I Third Assessment Report (TAR; IPCC, 2001). It concerns itself with trends in forcing agents and their precursors since 1750, and estimates their contribution to the radiative forcing (RF) of the climate system. Discussion of the understanding of atmospheric composition changes is limited to explaining the trends in forcing agents and their precursors. Areas where significant developments have occurred since the TAR are highlighted. The chapter draws on various assessments since the TAR, in particular the 2002 World Meteorological Organization (WMO)-United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion (WMO, 2003) and the IPCC-Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) special report on Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System (IPCC/TEAP, 2005).

The chapter assesses anthropogenic greenhouse gas changes, aerosol changes and their impact on clouds, aviation-induced contrails and cirrus changes, surface albedo changes and natural solar and volcanic mechanisms. The chapter reassesses the ‘radiative forcing’ concept (Sections 2.2 and 2.8), presents spatial and temporal patterns of RF, and examines the radiative energy budget changes at the surface.

For the long-lived greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluoro-carbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hereinafter collectively referred to as the LLGHGs; Section 2.3), the chapter makes use of new global measurement capabilities and combines long-term measurements from various networks to update trends through 2005. Compared to other RF agents, these trends are considerably better quantified; because of this, the chapter does not devote as much space to them as previous assessments (although the processes involved and the related budgets are further discussed in Sections 7.3 and 7.4). Nevertheless, LLGHGs remain the largest and most important driver of climate change, and evaluation of their trends is one of the fundamental tasks of both this chapter and this assessment.

The chapter considers only ‘forward calculation’ methods of estimating RF. These rely on observations and/or modelling of the relevant forcing agent. Since the TAR, several studies have attempted to constrain aspects of RF using ‘inverse calculation’ methods. In particular, attempts have been made to constrain the aerosol RF using knowledge of the temporal and/or spatial evolution of several aspects of climate. These include temperatures over the last 100 years, other RFs, climate response and ocean heat uptake. These methods depend on an understanding of – and sufficiently small uncertainties in – other aspects of climate change and are consequently discussed in the detection and attribution chapter (see Section 9.2).

Other discussions of atmospheric composition changes and their associated feedbacks are presented in Chapter 7. Radiative forcing and atmospheric composition changes before 1750 are discussed in Chapter 6. Future RF scenarios that were presented in Ramaswamy et al. (2001) are not updated in this report; however, they are briefly discussed in Chapter 10.