©2009 UNSW Climate Change Research Centre
UNSW Sydney NSW 2052
Title: The Copenhagen Diagnosis
Subtitle: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science
This report should be cited as:
The Copenhagen Diagnosis, 2009: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.
I. Allison, N.L. Bindoff, R.A. Bindschadler, P.M. Cox, N. de Noblet, M.H. England, J.E. Francis, N.
Gruber, A.M. Haywood, D.J. Karoly, G. Kaser, C. Le Quéré, T.M. Lenton, M.E. Mann, B.I. McNeil,
A.J. Pitman, S. Rahmstorf, E. Rignot, H.J. Schellnhuber, S.H. Schneider, S.C. Sherwood, R.C.J.
Somerville, K. Steffen, E.J. Steig, M. Visbeck, A.J. Weaver. The University of New South Wales
Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC), Sydney, Australia, 60pp.
Stephen Gray from the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC) provided support in the
compilation of this report and contributed as Technical Editor. Robert Beale (UNSW Faculty of
Science) and Michael Molitor (UNSW CCRC) provided editorial advice on sections of the report.
Alex Sen Gupta (UNSW CCRC) provided Figure 15 and Darrell Kaufman (Northern Arizona
University) provided Figure 20.
Design: Heléna Brusic, P3 Design Studio, UNSW, Ref: 43413
Printing: SOS Print + Media, Sydney
Text: p3 ©Rainer Prinz Weissbrunnferner, Italian Alps, 18 July 2006, showing a glacier that has lost its ﬁrm body. Extended dark ice surfaces
accelerate the melt rate, p6 ©evirgen & NASA - iStockphoto®, p8 ©Domen Colja - Photospin®, p12 ©Darren Green - Photospin®,
p14 ©kavram - Photospin®, p16 ©Brian Press Tornado - Photospin®, p17 ©kavram - Photospin®, p18 ©Luoman Amazon rainforest deforestation
- iStockphoto®, p22 ©Charles Westerlage Ice carving from Hubbard Glacier - Photospin®, p28 ©Stephen Schneider Sunset giant iceberg at Ilulissat,
p31 ©Jan Martin Will - iStockphoto®, p32 ©Phil Dickson Ice stack collapsing off the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia Argentina - iStockphoto®,
p34 ©Photospin® South Paciﬁc Islands, p39 ©Sebastian D’Souza Indian commuters walk through ﬂoodwater - Getty Images®, p42 ©kavram
Death Valley - Photospin®, p45 ©Maxim Tupikov Arctic icebreaker - iStockphoto®, p46 ©Alexander Hafeman (Mlenny) Dead Vlei Namibia -
iStockphoto®, ©p47 ©E. Steig, p48 ©Ian Joughin Meltwater on the Greenland Ice Sheet, p51 ©Gary Bydlo - Photospin®,
p58 Muammer Mujdat Uzel Marl and dry land on recent lake Denizili Turkey - iStockphoto®, p60 ©Kirill Putchenko - iStockphoto®.
Cover: (front and inside back) ©Beverley Vycital Exit Glacier Alaska - iStockphoto®; front cover images: ©Alexander Hafeman (Mlenny) Dead Vlei
Namibia - iStockphoto®, ©evirgen & NASA - iStockphoto®, ©Jens Carsten Rosemann Stormy ocean - iStockphoto®; back cover: ©Paige Falk Mud
in the Sierra - iStockphoto®.
Publication Date: 11/2009
UNSW CRICOS Provider No: 00098G
Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science
Nathalie de Noblet-Ducoudré
Corinne Le Quéré
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 3
Executive Summary .............................................................................................................................................................7
Greenhouse Gases and the Carbon Cycle ............................................................................................................................ 9
The Atmosphere ................................................................................................................................................................. 11
Extreme Events ...................................................................................................................................................................15
Land Surface .......................................................................................................................................................................19
Permafrost and Hydrates .....................................................................................................................................................21
Glaciers and Ice-Caps ..........................................................................................................................................................23
Ice-Sheets of Greenland and Antarctica ...............................................................................................................................24
Ice Shelves ..........................................................................................................................................................................27
The Oceans .........................................................................................................................................................................35
Global Sea Level ..................................................................................................................................................................37
Abrupt Change and Tipping Points .....................................................................................................................................40
Lessons from the Past .........................................................................................................................................................43
The Future ..........................................................................................................................................................................49
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It is over three years since the drafting of text was completed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). In the meantime, many hundreds of papers have been published on a suite of topics related
to human-induced climate change. The purpose of this report is to synthesize the most policy-relevant climate science
published since the close-off of material for the last IPCC report. The rationale is two-fold. Firstly, this report serves as an
interim evaluation of the evolving science midway through an IPCC cycle – IPCC AR5 is not due for completion until 2013.
Secondly, and most importantly, the report serves as a handbook of science updates that supplements the IPCC AR4 in time
for Copenhagen in December, 2009, and any national or international climate change policy negotiations that follow.
This report covers the range of topics evaluated by Working Group I of the IPCC, namely the Physical Science Basis. This
• an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations, as well as the global carbon cycle;
• coverage of the atmosphere, the land-surface, the oceans, and all of the major components of the cryosphere (land-ice,
glaciers, ice shelves, sea-ice and permafrost);
• paleoclimate, extreme events, sea level, future projections, abrupt change and tipping points;
• separate boxes devoted to explaining some of the common misconceptions surrounding climate change science.
The report has been purposefully written with a target readership of policy-makers, stakeholders, the media and the broader
public. Each section begins with a set of key points that summarises the main ﬁndings. The science contained in the report is
based on the most credible and signiﬁcant peer-reviewed literature available at the time of publication. The authors primarily
comprise previous IPCC lead authors familiar with the rigor and completeness required for a scientiﬁc assessment of this nature.
This report is freely available on the web at:
^ Weissbrunnferner, Italian Alps, 18 July 2006, showing a glacier that has lost its ﬁrm body. Extended dark ice surfaces accelerate the melt rate.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 7
The most signiﬁcant recent climate change ﬁndings are:
Surging greenhouse gas emissions: Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were 40% higher than those
in 1990. Even if global emission rates are stabilized at present-day levels, just 20 more years of emissions would give a
25% probability that warming exceeds 2°C, even with zero emissions after 2030. Every year of delayed action increases the
chances of exceeding 2°C warming.
Recent global temperatures demonstrate human-induced warming: Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a
rate of 0.19°C per decade, in very good agreement with predictions based on greenhouse gas increases. Even over the past
ten years, despite a decrease in solar forcing, the trend continues to be one of warming. Natural, short-term ﬂuctuations are
occurring as usual, but there have been no signiﬁcant changes in the underlying warming trend.
Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate
beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and
ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990.
Rapid Arctic sea-ice decline: Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate
models. The area of summertime sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40% less than the average prediction from IPCC
AR4 climate models.
Current sea-level rise underestimated: Satellites show recent global average sea-level rise (3.4 mm/yr over the past 15 years)
to be ~80% above past IPCC predictions. This acceleration in sea-level rise is consistent with a doubling in contribution from
melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice-sheets.
Sea-level predictions revised: By 2100, global sea-level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by Working Group
1 of the IPCC AR4; for unmitigated emissions it may well exceed 1 meter. The upper limit has been estimated as ~ 2 meters
sea level rise by 2100. Sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilized, and several
meters of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.
Delay in action risks irreversible damage: Several vulnerable elements in the climate system (e.g. continental ice-sheets,
Amazon rainforest, West African monsoon and others) could be pushed towards abrupt or irreversible change if warming
continues in a business-as-usual way throughout this century. The risk of transgressing critical thresholds (“tipping points”)
increases strongly with ongoing climate change. Thus waiting for higher levels of scientiﬁc certainty could mean that some
tipping points will be crossed before they are recognized.
The turning point must come soon: If global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2 °C above pre-industrial values, global
emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilize climate, a decarbonized global society –
with near-zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases – needs to be reached well within this century. More
speciﬁcally, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under 1 metric ton CO2 by 2050. This is 80-95%
below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.
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AnD thE CArbon CYClE
❏Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel burning in 2008 were 40% higher
than those in 1990, with a three-fold acceleration over the past 18 years.
❏Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are tracking near the highest scenarios
considered so far by the IPCC.
❏The fraction of CO2 emissions absorbed by the land and ocean CO2 reservoirs has likely
decreased by ~5% (from 60 to 55%) in the past 50 years, though interannual variability is
Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions
In 2008, combined global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2)
from fossil fuel burning, cement production and land use change
(mainly deforestation) were 27% higher than in the year 1990 (Le
Quéré et al. 2009). Of this combined total, the CO2 emissions
from fossil fuel burning and cement production were 40%
higher in 2008 compared to 1990. The global rate of increase
of fossil fuel CO2 emissions has accelerated three-fold over the
last 18 years, increasing from 1.0% per year in the 1990s to
3.4% per year between 2000-2008 (Figure 1). The accelerated
growth in fossil fuel CO2 emissions since 2000 was primarily
caused by fast growth rates in developing countries (particularly
China) in part due to increased international trade of goods
(Peters and Hertwich 2008), and by the slowdown of previous
improvements in the CO2 intensity of the global economy
(Raupach et al. 2007). The observed acceleration in fossil fuel
CO2 emissions is tracking high-end emissions scenarios used by
IPCC AR4 (Nakicenovic et al. 2000). In contrast, CO2 emissions
from land use change were relatively constant in the past few
decades. Preliminary ﬁgures suggest total CO2 emissions have
dropped in 2009, but this is a temporary effect resulting from the
global recession and no sign of the transformation required for
stabilizing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 385 parts
per million (ppm) in 2008 (Figure 2). The atmospheric CO2
concentration is more than 105 ppm above its natural pre-
industrial level. The present concentration is higher than at any
time in the last 800,000 years, and potentially the last 3 to 20
million years (Luthi et al. 2008; Tripati et al. 2009; Raymo et al.
1996). CO2 levels increased at a rate of 1.9 ppm/year between
2000 and 2008, compared to 1.5 ppm/yr in the 1990s. This rate
of increase of atmospheric CO2 is more than ten times faster than
the highest rate that has been detected in ice core data; such high
rates would be discernable in ice cores if they had occurred at any
time in the last 22,000 years (Joos and Spahni 2008).
The concentration of methane (CH4) in the atmosphere increased
since 2007 to 1800 parts per billion (ppb) after almost a decade
of little change (Figure 2). The causes of the recent increase in
CH4 have not yet been determined. The spatial distribution of
the CH4 increase shows that an increase in Northern Hemisphere
CH4 emissions has played a role and could dominate the signal
Figure 1. Observed global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel
burning and cement production compared with IPCC emissions
scenarios (Le Quéré et al. 2009). Observations are from the
US Department of Energy Carbon Dioxide Information Center
(CDIAC) up to 2006. 2007 and 2008 are based on BP economic
data. The emission scenarios are averaged over families of
scenarios presented in Nakicenovic et al (2000). The shaded
area covers all scenarios used to project climate change by the
IPCC. Emissions in 2009 are projected to be ~3% below 2008
levels, close to the level of emissions in 2007. This reduction is
equivalent to a temporary halt in global emissions for a period of
only 2-4 weeks.
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(Rigby et al. 2008), but the source of the increase is unknown.
CH4 is emitted by many industrial processes (ruminant farming,
rice agriculture, biomass burning, coal mining, and gas & oil
industry) and by natural reservoirs (wetlands, permafrost
and peatlands). Annual industrial emissions of CH4 are not
available as they are difﬁcult to quantify. CH4 emissions from
natural reservoirs can increase under warming conditions. This
has been observed from permafrost thawing in Sweden (see
Permafrost section), but no large-scale evidence is available to
clearly connect this process to the recent CH4 increase. If the
CH4 increase is caused by the response of natural reservoirs to
warming, it could continue for decades to centuries and enhance
the greenhouse gas burden of the atmosphere.
Figure 2. Concentration of CO2 (top) and CH4 (bottom) in the
atmosphere. The trends with seasonal cycle removed are shown
in red. CO2 and CH4 are the two most important anthropogenic
greenhouse gases. Data are from the Earth System Laboratory of
the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CO2 is
averaged globally. CH4 is shown for the Mauna Loa station only.
Carbon Sinks and Future Vulnerabilities
The oceanic and terrestrial CO2 reservoirs – the ‘CO2 sinks’–
have continued to absorb more than half of the total emissions
of CO2. However the fraction of emissions absorbed by the
reservoirs has likely decreased by ~5% (from 60 to 55%) in
the past 50 years (Canadell et al. 2007). The uncertainty in
this estimate is large because of the signiﬁcant background
interannual variability and because of uncertainty in CO2
emissions from land use change.
The response of the land and ocean CO2 sinks to climate
variability and recent climate change can account for the
decrease in uptake efﬁciency of the sinks suggested by the
observations (Le Quéré et al. 2009). A long-term decrease in
the efﬁciency of the land and ocean CO2 sinks would enhance
climate change via an increase in the amount of CO2 remaining
in the atmosphere. Many new studies have shown a recent
decrease in the efﬁciency of the oceanic carbon sink at removing
anthropogenic CO2 from the atmosphere. In the Southern Ocean,
the CO2 sink has not increased since 1981 in spite of the large
increase in atmospheric CO2 (Le Quéré et al. 2007; Metzl 2009;
Takahashi et al. 2009). The Southern Ocean trends have been
attributed to an increase in winds, itself a likely consequence of
ozone depletion (Lovenduski et al. 2008). Similarly, in the North
Atlantic, the CO2 sink decreased by ~50% since 1990 (Schuster
et al. 2009), though part of the decrease has been associated
with natural variability (Thomas et al. 2008).
Future vulnerabilities of the global CO2 sinks (ocean and
land) have not been revised since the IPCC AR4. Our current
understanding indicates that the natural CO2 sinks will decrease
in efﬁciency during this century, and the terrestrial sink could
even start to emit CO2 (Friedlingstein et al. 2006). The response
of the sinks to elevated CO2 and climate change is shown in
models to amplify global warming by 5-30%. The observations
available so far are insufﬁcient to provide greater certainty, but
they do not exclude the largest global warming ampliﬁcation
projected by the models (Le Quéré et al. 2009).
Is the greenhouse effect already saturated, so that adding more CO2 makes no difference?
No, not even remotely. It isn’t even saturated on the runaway greenhouse planet Venus, with its atmosphere made up of
96% CO2 and a surface temperature of 467 °C, hotter even than Mercury (Weart and Pierrehumbert 2007). The reason is
simple: the air gets ever thinner when we go up higher in the atmosphere. Heat radiation escaping into space mostly occurs
higher up in the atmosphere, not at the surface – on average from an altitude of about 5.5 km. It is here that adding more
CO2 does make a difference. When we add more CO2, the layer near the surface where the CO2 effect is largely saturated
gets thicker – one can visualize this as a layer of fog, visible only in the infrared. When this “fog layer” gets thicker, radiation
can only escape to space from higher up in the atmosphere, and the radiative equilibrium temperature of -18 °C therefore
also occurs higher up. That upward shift heats the surface, because temperature increases by 6.5 °C per kilometer as one
goes down through the atmosphere due to the pressure increase. Thus, adding 1 km to the “CO2 fog layer” that envelopes
our Earth will heat the surface climate by about 6.5 °C.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 11
❏Global air temperature, humidity and rainfall trend patterns exhibit a distinct ﬁngerprint
that cannot be explained by phenomena apart from increased atmospheric greenhouse gas
❏Every year this century (2001-2008) has been among the top 10 warmest years since
instrumental records began, despite solar irradiance being relatively weak over the past few
❏Global atmospheric temperatures maintain a strong warming trend since the 1970s
(~0.6°C), consistent with expectations of greenhouse induced warming.
Global Temperature Trends
IPCC AR4 presented “an unambiguous picture of the ongoing
warming of the climate system.” The atmospheric warming
trend continues to climb despite 2008 being cooler than 2007
(Figure 3). For example, the IPCC gave the 25-year trend as
0.177 ± 0.052 °C per decade for the period ending 2006 (based
on the HadCRUT data). Updating this by including the last two
years (2007 and 2008), the trend becomes 0.187 ± 0.052 °C
per decade for the period ending 2008. The recent observed
climate trend is thus one of ongoing warming, in line with IPCC
Year-to-year differences in global average temperatures are
unimportant in evaluating long-term climate trends. During the
warming observed over the 20th century, individual years lie
above or below the long-term trend line due to internal climate
variability (like 1998); this is a normal and natural phenomenon.
For example, in 2008 a La Niña occurred, a climate pattern
which naturally causes a temporary dip in the average global
temperature. At the same time, solar output was also at its
lowest level of the satellite era, another temporary cooling
inﬂuence. Without anthropogenic warming these two factors
should have resulted in the 2008 temperature being among
the coolest in the instrumental era, while in fact 2008 was the
9th warmest on record. This underpins the strong greenhouse
warming that has occurred in the atmosphere over the past
century. The most recent ten-year period is warmer than the
previous ten-year period, and the longer-term warming trend is
clear and unambiguous (Figure 3).
Figure 3. (top) Mean surface temperature change (°C) for 2001-
2007 relative to the baseline period of 1951-1980 and (bottom)
global average temperature 1850-2009 relative to the baseline
period 1880-1920 estimated from the (top) NASA/GISS data
set and (bottom) NASA/GISS and Hadley data. Data from the
NOAA reconstructed sea surface temperature show similar
results. In the lower panel the ﬁnal bold-face points (they lie on
top of each other) are the preliminary values for 2009 based on
data up to and including August.
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Is the Warming Natural or Human-Induced?
Our understanding of the causes of the recent century-scale
trend has improved further since the IPCC AR4. By far the
greatest part of the observed century-scale warming is due to
human factors. For example, Lean and Rind (2008) analyzed the
role of natural factors (e. g., solar variability, volcanoes) versus
human inﬂuences on temperatures since 1889. They found that
the sun contributed only about 10% of surface warming in the
last century and a negligible amount in the last quarter century,
less than in earlier assessments. No credible scientiﬁc literature
has been published since the AR4 assessment that supports
alternative hypotheses to explain the warming trend.
Is Warming Occurring Higher up in the
The IPCC AR4 noted a remaining uncertainty in temperature
trends in the atmosphere above the lowest layers near the Earth’s
surface. Most data sets available at that time showed weaker
than expected warming in the atmospheric region referred to as
the tropical upper troposphere, ten to ﬁfteen kilometers above
the surface. However, the observations suffered from signiﬁcant
stability issues especially in this altitude region. Researchers
have since performed additional analyses of the same data
using more rigorous techniques, and developed a new method
of assessing temperature trends from wind observations (Allen
and Sherwood 2008). The new observational estimates show
greater warming than the earlier ones, and the new, larger set of
estimates taken as a whole now bracket the trends predicted by
the models (Thorne 2008). This resolves a signiﬁcant ambiguity
expressed in AR4 (Santer et al. 2008).
Water Vapor, Rainfall and the Hydrological
New research and observations have resolved the question
of whether a warming climate will lead to an atmosphere
containing more water vapor, which would add to the
greenhouse effect and enhance the warming. The answer is yes,
this amplifying feedback has been detected: water vapor does
become more plentiful in a warmer atmosphere (Dessler et al.
2008). Satellite data show that atmospheric moisture content
over the oceans has increased since 1998, with greenhouse
emissions being the cause (Santer at al. 2007).
No studies were cited in IPCC AR4 linking observed rainfall
trends on a ﬁfty-year time scale to anthropogenic climate
change. Now such trends can be linked. For example, Zhang
et al. (2007) found that rainfall has reduced in the Northern
Hemisphere subtropics but has increased in middle latitudes, and
that this can be attributed to human-caused global warming.
Models project that such trends will amplify as temperatures
continue to rise.
Recent research has also found that rains become more intense
in already-rainy areas as atmospheric water vapor content
increases (Wentz et al. 2007; Allan and Soden 2008). Their
conclusions strengthen those of earlier studies. However,
recent changes have occurred even faster than predicted, raising
the possibility that future changes could be more severe than
predicted. This is a common theme from the recent science:
uncertainties existing in AR4, once resolved, point to a more
rapidly changing and more sensitive climate than we previously
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 13
Has global warming recently slowed down or paused?
No. There is no indication in the data of a slowdown or pause in the human-caused climatic warming trend. The observed
global temperature changes are entirely consistent with the climatic warming trend of ~0.2 °C per decade predicted by
IPCC, plus superimposed short-term variability (see Figure 4). The latter has always been – and will always be – present in
the climate system. Most of these short-term variations are due to internal oscillations like El Niño – Southern Oscillation,
solar variability (predominantly the 11-year Schwabe cycle) and volcanic eruptions (which, like Pinatubo in 1991, can cause
a cooling lasting a few years).
If one looks at periods of ten years or shorter, such short-term variations can more than outweigh the anthropogenic global
warming trend. For example, El Niño events typically come with global-mean temperature changes of up to 0.2 °C over a few
years, and the solar cycle with warming or cooling of 0.1 °C over ﬁve years (Lean and Rind 2008). However, neither El Niño,
nor solar activity or volcanic eruptions make a signiﬁcant contribution to longer-term climate trends. For good reason the
IPCC has chosen 25 years as the shortest trend line they show in the global temperature records, and over this time period
the observed trend agrees very well with the expected anthropogenic warming.
Nevertheless global cooling has not occurred even over the past ten years, contrary to claims promoted by lobby groups and
picked up in some media. In the NASA global temperature data, the past ten 10-year trends (i.e. 1990-1999, 1991-2000
and so on) have all been between 0.17 and 0.34 °C warming per decade, close to or above the expected anthropogenic trend,
with the most recent one (1999-2008) equal to 0.19 °C per decade. The Hadley Center data most recently show smaller
warming trends (0.11 °C per decade for 1999-2008) primarily due to the fact that this data set is not fully global but leaves
out the Arctic, which has warmed particularly strongly in recent years.
It is perhaps noteworthy that despite the extremely low brightness of the sun over the past three years (see next page);
temperature records have been broken during this time (see NOAA, State of the Climate, 2009). For example, March 2008
saw the warmest global land temperature of any March ever measured in the instrumental record. June and August 2009
saw the warmest land and ocean temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere ever recorded for those months. The global ocean
surface temperatures in 2009 broke all previous records for three consecutive months: June, July and August. The years 2007,
2008 and 2009 had the lowest summer Arctic sea ice cover ever recorded, and in 2008 for the ﬁrst time in living memory
the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage were simultaneously ice-free. This feat was repeated in 2009. Every single
year of this century (2001-2008) has been among the top ten warmest years since instrumental records began.
Figure 4. Global temperature according to NASA GISS data since 1980. The red line shows annual data, the red square
shows the preliminary value for 2009, based on January-August. The green line shows the 25-year linear trend (0.19 °C
per decade). The blue lines show the two most recent ten-year trends (0.18 °C per decade for 1998-2007, 0.19 per decade
for 1999-2008) and illustrates that these recent decadal trends are entirely consistent with the long-term trend and IPCC
predictions. Misunderstanding about warming trends can arise if only selected portions of the data are shown, e.g. 1998 to
2008, combined with the tendency to focus on extremes or end points (e.g. 2008 being cooler than 1998) rather than an
objective trend calculation. Even the highly “cherry-picked” 11-year period starting with the warm 1998 and ending with the
cold 2008 still shows a warming trend of 0.11 °C per decade.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 14
Can solar activity or other natural processes explain global warming?
No. The incoming solar radiation has been almost constant over the past 50 years, apart from the well-known 11-year solar
cycle (Figure 5). In fact it has slightly decreased over this period. In addition, over the past three years the brightness of the
sun has reached an all-time low since the beginning of satellite measurements in the 1970s (Lockwood and Fröhlich 2007,
2008). But this natural cooling effect was more than a factor of ten smaller than the effect of increasing greenhouse gases, so
it has not noticeably slowed down global warming. Also, winters are warming more rapidly than summers, and overnight
minimum temperatures have warmed more rapidly than the daytime maxima – exactly the opposite of what would be the
case if the sun were causing the warming.
Other natural factors, like volcanic eruptions or El Niño events, have only caused short-term temperature variations over
time spans of a few years, but cannot explain any longer-term climatic trends (e.g., Lean and Rind 2008).
Figure 5. (below) Time-series of solar irradiance alongside the net effect of greenhouse gas emissions (the latter relative to
the year 1880; using Meehl et al. 2004) calculated in terms of total estimated impact on global air temperatures; observed
from 1970-2008; and projected from 2009-2030 (adapted from Lean and Rind 2009).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 15
❏Increases in hot extremes and decreases in cold extremes have continued and are expected
to amplify further.
❏Anthropogenic climate change is expected to lead to further increases in precipitation
extremes, both increases in heavy precipitation and increases in drought.
❏Although future changes in tropical cyclone activity cannot yet be modeled, new analyses
of observational data conﬁrm that the intensity of tropical cyclones has increased in the
past three decades in line with rising tropical ocean temperatures.
Many of the impacts of climate variations and climate change on
society, the environment and ecosystems arise through changes in
the frequency or intensity of extreme weather and climate events.
The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC 2007) concluded that
many changes in extremes had been observed since the 1970s
as part of the warming of the climate system. These included
more frequent hot days, hot nights and heat waves; fewer cold
days, cold nights and frosts; more frequent heavy precipitation
events; more intense and longer droughts over wider areas; and an
increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic
but no trend in total numbers of tropical cyclones.
Recent studies have conﬁrmed the observed trends of more hot
extremes and fewer cold extremes and shown that these are
consistent with the expected response to increasing greenhouse
gases and anthropogenic aerosols at large spatial scales (CCSP
2008a; Meehl et al. 2007a; Jones et al. 2008; Alexander and
Arblaster 2009). However, at smaller scales, the effects of
land-use change and variations of precipitation may be more
important for changes in temperature extremes in some locations
(Portmann et al. 2009). Continued marked increases in hot
extremes and decreases in cold extremes are expected in most
areas across the globe due to further anthropogenic climate
change (CCSP 2008a; Kharin et al. 2007; Meehl et al. 2007a;
Jones et al. 2008; Alexander and Arblaster 2009).
Precipitation extremes and drought
Post IPCC AR4 research has also found that rains become
more intense in already-rainy areas as atmospheric water vapor
content increases (Pall et al. 2007; Wentz et al. 2007; Allan
and Soden 2008). These conclusions strengthen those of earlier
studies and are expected from considerations of atmospheric
thermodynamics. However, recent changes have occurred faster
than predicted by some climate models, raising the possibility
that future changes will be more severe than predicted.
An example of recent increases in heavy precipitation is found
in the United States, where the area with a much greater than
normal proportion of days with extreme rainfall amounts has
increased markedly (see Figure 6). While these changes in
precipitation extremes are consistent with the warming of the
climate system, it has not been possible to attribute them to
anthropogenic climate change with high conﬁdence due to the
very large variability of precipitation extremes (CCSP 2008a;
Meehl et al. 2007b; Alexander and Arblaster 2009).
Figure 6. An increasing area of the US is experiencing very
heavy daily precipitation events. Annual values of the percentage
of the United States with a much greater than normal proportion
of precipitation due to very heavy (equivalent to the highest
tenth percentile) 1-day precipitation amounts. From Gleason
et al. (2008) updated by NOAA at /www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 16
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 17
In addition to the increases in heavy precipitation, there have
also been observed increases in drought since the 1970s
(Shefﬁeld and Wood 2008), consistent with the decreases in
mean precipitation over land in some latitude bands that have
been attributed to anthropogenic climate change (Zhang et al.
The intensiﬁcation of the global hydrological cycle with
anthropogenic climate change is expected to lead to further
increases in precipitation extremes, both increases in very
heavy precipitation in wet areas and increases in drought in dry
areas. While precise ﬁgures cannot yet be given, current studies
suggest that heavy precipitation rates may increase by 5% - 10%
per °C of warming, similar to the rate of increase of atmospheric
The IPCC Fourth Assessment found a substantial upward trend
in the severity of tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons)
since the mid-1970s, with a trend towards longer storm duration
and greater storm intensity, strongly correlated with the rise in
tropical sea surface temperatures. It concluded that a further
increase in storm intensity is likely.
Several studies since the IPCC report have found more evidence
for an increase in hurricane activity over the past decades. Hoyos
et al. (2006) found a global increase in the number of hurricanes
of the strongest categories 4 and 5, and they identiﬁed rising
sea surface temperatures (SST) as the leading cause. Warming
tropical SST has also been linked to increasingly intense tropical
cyclone activity – and an increasing number of tropical cyclones
– in the case of certain basins such as the North Atlantic (Mann
and Emanuel 2006; Emanuel et al. 2008; Mann et al. 2009).
Scientiﬁc debate about data quality has continued, especially
on the question of how many tropical cyclones may have
gone undetected before satellites provided a global coverage
of observations. Mann et al. (2007) concluded that such an
undercount bias would not be large enough to question the
recent rise in hurricane activity and its close connection to
sea surface warming. A complete reanalysis of satellite data
since 1980 (Elsner et al. 2008) conﬁrms a global increase of
the number of category 4 and 5 (i.e., the strongest) tropical
cyclones: they found a 1°C global warming corresponding to a
30% increase in these storms. While evidence has thus ﬁrmed
up considerably that recent warming has been associated with
stronger tropical cyclones, modeling studies (e.g. Emanuel et al.
2008; Knutson et al. 2008, Vecchi et al. 2008) have shown that
we have as yet no robust capacity to project future changes in
tropical cyclone activity.
Other severe weather events
The IPCC Fourth Assessment concluded that there were
insufﬁcient studies available to make an assessment of observed
changes in small-scale severe weather events or of expected
future changes in such events. However, recent research has
shown an increased frequency of severe thunderstorms in
some regions, particularly the tropics and south-eastern US,
is expected due to future anthropogenic climate change (Trapp
et al. 2007; Aumann et al. 2008; Marsh et al. 2009; Trapp et
al. 2009). In addition, there have been recent increases in
the frequency and intensity of wildﬁres in many regions with
Mediterranean climates (e.g. Spain, Greece, southern California,
south-east Australia) and further marked increases are expected
due to anthropogenic climate change (Westerling et al. 2006;
Pitman et al. 2008).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 19
❏Land cover change, particularly deforestation, can have a major impact on regional
climate, but at the global scale its biggest impact comes from the CO2 released in the
❏Observations through the 2005 drought in Amazonia suggest that the tropical forests
could become a strong carbon source if rainfall declines in the future.
❏Carbon dioxide changes during the Little Ice Age indicate that warming may in turn lead
to carbon release from land surfaces, a feedback that could amplify 21st century climate
❏Avoiding tropical deforestation could prevent up to 20% of human-induced CO2
emissions and help to maintain biodiversity.
How does land-use change affect climate?
Earth’s climate is strongly affected by the nature of the
land-surface, including the vegetation and soil type and the
amount of water stored on the land as soil moisture, snow and
groundwater. Vegetation and soils affect the surface albedo,
which determines the amount of sunlight absorbed by the land.
The land surface also affects the partitioning of rainfall into
evapotranspiration (which cools the surface and moistens the
atmosphere) and runoff (which provides much of our freshwater).
This partitioning can affect local convection and therefore rainfall.
Changes in land-use associated with the spread of agriculture
and urbanization and deforestation can alter these mechanisms.
Land use change can also change the surface roughness, affect
emissions of trace gases, and some volatile organic compounds
such as isoprene. Despite the key role of land cover change
at regional scales, climate model projections from IPCC AR4
excluded anthropogenic land-cover change.
There has been signiﬁcant progress on modeling the role of land
cover change since the IPCC AR4 (Piekle et al. 2007), with the
ﬁrst systematic study demonstrating that large-scale land cover
change directly and signiﬁcantly affects regional climate (Pitman
et al. 2009). This has important implications for understanding
future climate change; climate models need to simulate land
cover change to capture regional changes in regions of intense
land cover change. However, failing to account for land cover
change has probably not affected global-scale projections
(Pitman et al. 2009), noting that emissions from land cover
change are included in projections.
Land-cover change also affects climate change by releasing
CO2 to the atmosphere and by modifying the land carbon sink
(Bondeau et al. 2007; Fargione et al. 2008). The most obvious
example of this is tropical deforestation which contributes about
a ﬁfth of global CO2 emissions and also inﬂuences the land-
to-atmosphere ﬂuxes of water and energy (Bala et al. 2007).
Avoiding deforestation therefore eliminates a signiﬁcant fraction
of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and maintains areas like the
Amazon rainforest which supports high biodiversity and plays a
critically important role in the climate system (Malhi et al. 2008).
Climate Change and the Amazon Rainforest
The distribution and function of vegetation depends critically
on the patterns of temperature and rainfall across the globe.
Climate change therefore has the potential to signiﬁcantly alter
land-cover even in the absence of land-use change. A key area
of concern has been the remaining intact Amazonian rainforest
which is susceptible to ‘dieback’ in some climate models due
to the combined effects of increasing greenhouse gases and
reducing particulate or ‘aerosol’ pollution in the northern
hemisphere (Cox et al. 2008). However, these projections are
very dependent on uncertain aspects of regional climate change,
most notably the sign and magnitude of rainfall change in
Amazonia in the 21st century (Malhi et al. 2008, 2009).
There have also been some doubts raised as to whether the
Amazonian rainforest is as sensitive to rainfall reductions as
large-scale models suggest. The drought in Western Amazonia
in 2005 provided a test of this hypothesis using long-term
monitoring of tree growth in the region (Phillips et al. 2009),
and a massive carbon source was detected in the region in 2005
against the backdrop of a signiﬁcant carbon sink in the decades
before. The forests of Amazonia are therefore sensitive to ‘2005-
like’ droughts and these are expected to become more common
in the 21st century (Cox et al. 2008).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 20
A similar story emerges from the analysis of satellite and CO2
ﬂux measurements during the European drought of 2003
(Reichstein et al. 2007). The IPCC AR4 tentatively suggested a
link between global warming and the 2003 drought, and this
analysis showed that the drought had an enormous impact
on the health and functioning of both natural and managed
landscapes in the region.
How large are feedbacks linking land-surface
The response of the land-surface to climatic anomalies feeds back
on the climate by changing the ﬂuxes of energy, water and CO2
between the land and the atmosphere. For example, it seems
likely that changes in the state of the land-surface, which in
turn changed the energy and water ﬂuxes to the atmosphere,
played an important part in the severity and length of the 2003
European drought (Fischer et al. 2007). In some regions, such
as the Sahel, land-atmosphere coupling may be strong enough
to support two alternative climate-vegetation states; one wet
and vegetated, the other dry and desert-like. There may be
other “hot-spot” regions where the land-atmosphere coupling
signiﬁcantly controls the regional climate; indeed it appears that
the land is a strong control on climate in many semi arid and
However, the strongest feedbacks on global climate in the 21st
century are likely to be due to changes in the land carbon sink.
The climate-carbon cycle models reported in the IPCC AR4
(Friedlingstein et al. 2006) reproduced the historical land carbon
sink predominantly through `CO2 fertilization’. There is evidence
of CO2 fertilization being limited in nitrogen-limited ecosystems
(Hyvonen et al. 2007), but the ﬁrst generation coupled climate-
carbon models did not include nutrient cycling.
The IPCC AR4 climate-carbon cycle models also represented a
counteracting tendency for CO2 to be released more quickly from
the soils as the climate warms, and as a result these models
predicted a reducing efﬁciency of the land carbon sink under
global warming. There is some suggestion of a slow-down of
natural carbon sinks in the recent observational record (Canadell
et al. 2007), and strong amplifying land carbon-climate feedback
also seems to be consistent with records of the little ice-age
period (Cox and Jones 2008).
Does the land-surface care about the causes of
Yes. Vegetation is affected differently by different atmospheric
pollutants, and this means that the effects of changes in
atmospheric composition cannot be understood purely in terms
of their impact on global warming.
CO2 increases affect the land through climate change, but
also directly through CO2-fertilization of photosynthesis, and
‘CO2-induced stomatal closure’ which tends to increase plant
water-use efﬁciency. Observational studies have shown a direct
impact of CO2 on the stomatal pores of plants, which regulate
the ﬂuxes of water vapor and CO2 at the leaf surface. In a higher
CO2 environment, stomata reduce their opening since they
are able to take up CO2 more efﬁciently. By transpiring less,
plants increase their water-use efﬁciency, which consequently
affects the surface energy and water balance. If transpiration is
suppressed via higher CO2, the lower evaporative cooling may
also lead to higher temperatures (Cruz et al. 2009). There is
also the potential for signiﬁcant positive impacts on freshwater
resources, but this is still an area of active debate (Gedney et al.
2006, Piao et al. 2007, Betts et al. 2007).
By contrast, increases in near surface ozone have strong
negative impacts on vegetation by damaging leaves and their
photosynthetic capacity. As a result historical increases in near
surface ozone have probably suppressed land carbon uptake and
therefore increased the rate of growth of CO2 in the 20th century.
Sitch et al. (2007) estimate that this indirect forcing of climate
change almost doubles the contribution that near-surface ozone
made to 20th century climate change.
Atmospheric aerosol pollution also has a direct impact on
plant physiology by changing the quantity and nature of the
sunlight reaching the land-surface. Increasing aerosol loadings
from around 1950 to 1980, associated predominantly with the
burning of sulphurous coal, reduced the amount of sunlight at
the surface, which has been coined ‘global dimming’ (Wild et
al. 2007). Since plants need sunlight for photosynthesis, we
might have expected to see a slow-down of the land carbon
sink during the global dimming period, but we didn’t. Mercado
et al. (2009) offer an explanation for this based on the fact that
plants are more light-efﬁcient if the sunlight is ‘diffuse’. Aerosol
pollution would certainly have scattered the sunlight, making it
more diffuse, as well as reducing the overall quantity of sunlight
reaching the surface. It seems that ‘diffuse radiation fertilization’
won this battle, enhancing the global land-carbon sink by about
a quarter from 1960 to 2000 (Mercado et al. 2009). This implies
that the land carbon sink will decline if we reduce the amount of
potentially harmful particulates in the air.
These recent studies since IPCC AR4 argue strongly for metrics
to compare different atmospheric pollutants that go beyond
radiative forcing and global warming, to impacts on the vital
ecosystem services related to the availability of food and water.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 21
PErMAFrost AnD hYDrAtEs
❏New insights into the Northern Hemisphere permafrost (permanently frozen ground) suggest a large
potential source of CO2 and CH4 that would amplify atmospheric concentrations if released.
❏A recent increase in global methane levels cannot yet be attributed to permafrost degradation.
❏A separate and signiﬁcant source of methane exists as hydrates beneath the deep ocean ﬂoor
and in permafrost. It has recently been concluded that release of this type of methane is very
unlikely to occur this century.
As noted in the IPCC AR4 and more recent studies, the
southern boundary of the discontinuous permafrost zone has
shifted northward over North America in recent decades. Rapid
degradation and upward movement of the permafrost lower
limit has continued on the Tibetan plateau (Jin et al. 2008, Cui
and Graf 2009). In addition, observations in Europe (Åkerman
and Johansson 2008; Harris et al. 2009) have noted permafrost
thawing and a substantial increase in the depth of the overlying
active layer exposed to an annual freeze/thaw cycle, especially in
As permafrost melts and the depth of the active layer deepens,
more organic material can potentially start to decay. If the surface
is covered with water, methane-producing bacteria break down
the organic matter. But these bacteria cannot survive in the
presence of oxygen. Instead, if the thawed soils are exposed to
air, carbon dioxide-producing bacteria are involved in the decay
process. Either case is an amplifying feedback to global warming.
In fact, the magnitude of the feedback represents an important
unknown in the science of global warming; this feedback has
not been accounted for in any of the IPCC projections. The total
amount of carbon stored in permafrost has been estimated to
be around 1672 Gt (1 Gt = 109 tons), of which ~277 Gt are
contained in peatlands (Schuur et al. 2008; Tarnocai et al. 2009).
This represents about twice the amount of carbon contained in
the atmosphere. A recent analysis by Dorrepaal et al. (2009) has
found strong direct observational evidence for an acceleration
of carbon emissions in association with climate warming from
a peat bog overlying permafrost at a site in northern Sweden.
Whether or not recent observations of increasing atmospheric
methane concentration (Rigby et al. 2008), after nearly a decade
of stable levels, are caused by enhanced northern hemisphere
production associated with surface warming is still uncertain.
Another amplifying feedback to warming that has recently
been observed in high northern latitudes involves the microbial
transformation of nitrogen trapped in soils to nitrous oxide. By
measuring the nitrous oxide emissions from bare peat surfaces,
Repo et al. (2009) inferred emissions per square meter of the
same magnitude as those from croplands and tropical soils. They
point out that as the Arctic warms, regions of bare exposed peat
will increase, thereby amplifying total nitrous oxide emissions.
Between 500 and 10,000 Gt of carbon are thought to be stored
under the sea ﬂoor in the form methane hydrates (or clathrates),
a crystalline structure of methane gas and water molecules
(Brook et al. 2008). Another 7.5 to 400 Gt of carbon are stored
in the form of methane hydrates trapped in permafrost (Brook et
al. 2008). Some have argued that anthropogenic warming could
raise the possibility of a catastrophic release of methane from
hydrates to the atmosphere. In a recent assessment by the US
Climate Change Science Program (CCSP 2008b), it was deemed
to be very unlikely that such a release would occur this century,
although the same assessment deemed it to be very likely that
methane sources from hydrate and wetland emissions would
increase as the climate warmed. This is supported by a recent
analysis that found that the observed increase in atmospheric
methane 11,600 years ago had a wetland, as opposed to
hydrate, origin (Petrenko et al. 2009); as was also found in
studies using Earth models of intermediate complexity (Fyke and
Weaver 2006; Archer et al. 2009).
Few studies with AR4-type climate models have been
undertaken. One systematic study used the Community Climate
System Model, version 3 (CCSM3) with explicit treatment of
frozen soil processes. The simulated reduction in permafrost
reached 40% by ~2030 irrespective of emission scenario (a
reduction from ~10 million km2 to 6 million km2). By 2050, this
reduces to 4 million km2 (under B1 emissions) and 3.5 million
km2 (under A2 emissions). Permafrost declines to ~1 million km2
by 2100 under A2. In each case, the simulations did not include
additional feedbacks triggered by the collapse of permafrost
including out-gassing of methane, a northward expansion of
shrubs and forests and the activation of the soil carbon pool.
These would each further amplify warming.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 23
glACiErs AnD iCE-CAPs
❏There is widespread evidence of increased melting of glaciers and ice-caps since the mid-1990s.
❏The contribution of glaciers and ice-caps to global sea-level has increased from 0.8 millimeters
per year in the 1990s to be 1.2 millimeters per year today.
❏The adjustment of glaciers and ice caps to present climate alone is expected to raise sea level by
~18 centimeters. Under warming conditions they may contribute as much as ~55 centimeters
Glaciers and mountain ice-caps can potentially contribute a
total of approximately 0.7 meters to global sea-level. Glaciers
and mountain ice-caps also provide a source of freshwater in
many mountain regions worldwide. The IPCC AR4 assessed
the contribution from worldwide shrinking glaciers and ice caps
to sea level rise at the beginning of the 21st Century at about
0.8 millimeters per year (Lemke et al. 2007, Kaser et al. 2006).
Since then, new estimates of the contribution from glaciers and
ice caps have been made using new data and by exploring new
These new assessments are shown in Figure 7. They show
glacier and ice cap contributions to sea level rise that are
generally slightly higher than those reported in IPCC AR4.
They also extend from 1850 up to 2006. These new estimates
show that the mass loss of glaciers and ice caps has increased
considerably since the beginning of the 1990s and now
contribute about 1.2 millimeters per year to global sea level rise.
Glaciers and ice caps are not in balance with the present climate.
Recent estimates show that adjustment to that alone will
cause a mass loss equivalent to ~18 centimeters sea level rise
(Bahr et al. 2009) within this century. Under ongoing changes
consistent with current warming trends, a mass loss of up to
~55 centimeters sea level rise is expected by 2100 (Pfeffer et al.
Figure 7. Estimates of the contribution of glaciers and ice-caps to global change in sea-level equivalent (SLE), in millimeters
SLE per year.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 24
iCE-shEEts oF grEEnlAnD AnD AntArCtiCA
❏The surface area of the Greenland ice sheet which experiences summer melt has increased by
30% since 1979, consistent with warming air temperatures. Melt covered 50% of the ice sheet
during the record season in 2007.
❏The net loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated since the mid-1990s and is now
contributing as much as 0.7 millimeters per year to sea level rise due to both increased melting
and accelerated ice ﬂow.
❏Antarctica is also losing ice mass at an increasing rate, mostly from the West Antarctic ice sheet
due to increased ice ﬂow. Antarctica is currently contributing to sea level rise at a rate nearly
equal to Greenland.
Antarctica and Greenland maintain the largest ice reservoirs
on land. If completely melted, the Antarctic ice-sheet would
raise global sea-level by 52.8 meters, while Greenland would
add a further 6.6 meters. Loss of only the most vulnerable
parts of West Antarctica would still raise sea level by 3.3
meters (Bamber et al,. 2009). IPCC AR4 concluded that net
ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets together
contributed to sea level rise over the period 1993 to 2003 at
an average rate estimated at 0.4 millimeters per year. Since
IPCC AR4, there have been a number of new studies observing
and modelling ice-sheet mass budget that have considerably
enhanced our understanding of ice-sheet vulnerabilities (Allison
et al. 2009). These assessments reinforce the conclusion that the
ice sheets are contributing to present sea level rise, and show
that the rate of loss from both Greenland and Antarctica has
increased recently. Furthermore, recent observations have shown
that changes in the rate of ice discharge into the sea can occur
far more rapidly than previously suspected (e.g. Rignot 2006).
Figure 8. Estimates of the net mass budget of the Greenland Ice Sheet since 1960. A negative mass budget indicates ice loss and
sea level rise. Dotted boxes represent estimates used by IPCC AR4 (IPCC, 2007). The solid boxes are post-AR4 assessments (R =
Rignot et al. 2008a; VW = Velicogna & Wahr 2006; L = Luthcke et al. 2006; WT = Wouters et al. 2008; CZ = Cazenave et al.
2009; V = Velicogna 2009).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 25
Figure 8 shows estimates of the mass budget of the Greenland
Ice Sheet since 1960. In this representation, the horizontal
dimension of the boxes shows the time period over which the
estimate was made, and the vertical dimension shows the
upper and lower limits of the estimate. The colors represent
the different methods that were used: estimates derived from
satellite or aircraft altimeter measurements of height change of
the ice sheet surface are brown; estimates of mass loss from
satellite gravity measurements are blue; and estimates derived
from the balance between mass inﬂux and discharge are red.
The data in Figure 8 indicate that net ice mass loss from
Greenland has been increasing since at least the early 1990s,
and that in the 21st Century, the rate of loss has increased
signiﬁcantly. Multiple observational constraints and the use
of several different techniques provide conﬁdence that the rate
of mass loss from the Greenland ice-sheet has accelerated.
Velicogna (2009) used GRACE satellite gravity data to show that
the rate of Greenland mass loss doubled over the period from
April 2002 to February 2009.
Near-coastal surface melt and run-off have increased signiﬁcantly
since 1960 in response to warming temperature, but total
snow precipitation has also increased (Hanna et al. 2008). The
average Greenland surface temperature rose by more than 1.5°C
over the period 2000 to 2006 and mass loss estimated from
GRACE gravity data occurred within 15 days of the initiation
of surface melt, suggesting that the water drains rapidly from
the ice sheet (Hall et al. 2008). Passive microwave satellite
measurements of the area of the Greenland ice sheet subject to
surface melt indicate that the melt area has been increasing since
1979 (Steffen et al. 2008; Figure 9). There is a good correlation
between total melt area extent and the number of melt days with
total volume of run off, which has also increased.
The pattern of ice sheet change in Greenland is one of near-
coastal thinning, primarily in the south along fast-moving outlet
glaciers. Accelerated ﬂow and discharge from some major outlet
glaciers (also called dynamic thinning) is responsible for much of
the loss (Rignot & Kanagaratnam 2006; Howat et al. 2007). In
southeast Greenland many smaller drainage basins, especially
the catchments of marine-terminating outlet glaciers, are also
contributing to ice loss (Howat et al. 2008). Pritchard et al.
(2009) used high resolution satellite laser altimetry to show
that dynamic thinning of fast-ﬂowing coastal glaciers is now
widespread at all latitudes in Greenland. Greenland glaciers
ﬂowing faster than 100 meters per year thinned by an average of
0.84 meters per year between 2003 and 2007.
Figure 9. The total melt area of the Greenland ice sheet increased by 30% between 1979 and 2008 based on passive microwave
satellite data, with the most extreme melt in 2007. In general 33-55% of the total mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet is
caused by surface melt and runoff. For 2007, the area experiencing melt was around 50% of the total ice sheet area. The low melt
year in 1992 was caused by the volcanic aerosols from Mt. Pinatubo causing a short-lived global cooling (updated from Steffen et
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 26
New estimates of the mass budget of the Antarctic Ice Sheet are
shown in Figure 10. Comprehensive estimates for Antarctica
are only available since the early 1990s. Several new studies
using the GRACE satellite gravity data (blue boxes in Figure 10)
all show net loss from the Antarctic since 2003 with a pattern
of near balance for East Antarctica, and greater mass loss from
West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula (e.g. Chen et
al. 2006; Cazenave et al. 2009). The GRACE assessment of
Velicogna (2009) indicates that, like Greenland, the rate of mass
loss from the Antarctic ice sheet is accelerating, increasing from
104 Gt per year for 2002-2006 to 246 Gt per year for 2006-2009
(the equivalent of almost 0.7 millimeters per year of sea level
rise). Gravity and altimeter observations require correction for
uplift of the Earth’s crust under the ice sheets (glacial isostatic
adjustment): this is poorly known for Antarctica.
The largest losses occurred in the West Antarctic basins draining
into the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas. Satellite glacier
velocity estimates from 1974 imagery show that the outlet
glaciers of the Pine Island Bay region have accelerated since then,
changing a region of the ice sheet that was in near-balance to
one of considerable loss (Rignot 2008). Rignot et al. (2008b)
show that the ice discharge in this region further increased
between 1996 and 2006, increasing the net mass loss over
the period by 59%, and Pritchard et al. (2009) show from laser
altimetry that dynamic thinning in some parts of the Amundsen
Sea embayment has exceeded 9 meters per year. The recent
acceleration of ice streams in West Antarctica explains much of
the Antarctic mass loss, but narrow fast-moving ice streams in
East Antarctica are also contributing to the loss (Pritchard et al.
The Antarctic Peninsula region has experienced much greater
warming than the continent as a whole. This has led to
widespread retreat (Cook et al. 2005) and acceleration (Pritchard
& Vaughan 2007) of the tidewater glaciers in that region.
The Risk of Ice-Sheet Collapse
The largest unknown in the projections of sea level rise over the
next century is the potential for rapid dynamic collapse of ice
sheets. The most signiﬁcant factor in accelerated ice discharge
in both Greenland and Antarctica over the last decade has been
the un-grounding of glacier fronts from their bed, mostly due
to submarine ice melting. Changes to basal lubrication by melt
water, including surface melt draining through moulins (vertical
conduits) to the bottom of the ice sheet, may also affect the
ice sheet dynamics in ways that are not fully understood. The
major dynamic ice sheet uncertainties are largely one-sided:
they can lead to a faster rate of sea-level rise, but are unlikely
to signiﬁcantly slow the rate of rise. Although it is unlikely that
total sea level rise by 2100 will be as high as 2 meters (Pfeffer et
al. 2008), the probable upper limit of a contribution from the ice
sheets remains uncertain.
Figure 10. Estimates of the net mass budget of the Antarctic Ice Sheet since 1992. Dotted boxes represent estimates used by
IPCC AR4 (IPCC 2007). The solid boxes are more recent estimates (CH = Chen et al. 2006; WH = Wingham et al. 2006; R =
Rignot et al. 2008b; CZ = Cazenave et al. 2009; V = Velicogna 2009).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 27
❏Ice-shelves connect continental ice-sheets to the ocean. Destabilization of ice-shelves along the
Antarctic Peninsula has been widespread with 7 collapses over the past 20 years.
❏Signs of ice shelf weakening have been observed elsewhere than in the Antarctic Peninsula,
e.g. in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas, indicating a more widespread inﬂuence of
atmospheric and oceanic warming than previously thought.
❏There is a strong inﬂuence of ocean warming on ice sheet stability and mass balance via the
melting of ice-shelves.
Ice shelves are ﬂoating sheets of ice of considerable thickness
that are attached to the coast. They are mostly composed of
ice that has ﬂowed from the interior ice sheet, or that has been
deposited as local snowfall. They can be found around 45% of
the Antarctic coast, in a few bays off the north coast of Ellesmere
Island near Greenland, and in a few ﬁords along the northern
Greenland coast (where they are termed ice tongues). Over the
last few years, the six remaining ice shelves (Serson, Petersen,
Milne, Ayles, Ward Hunt and Markham) off Ellesmere Island
have either collapsed entirely (Ayles on August 13, 2005 and
Markham during the ﬁrst week of August, 2008) or undergone
Along the coast of Greenland, the seaward extent of the outlet
glacier Jakobshavn Isbrae provides a striking example of a ﬂoating
ice tongue in retreat (Figure 11). Holland et al. (2008) suggest
Figure 11. The ﬂoating ice tongue representing the seaward extent of Jakobshavn Isbræ on July 7, 2001. Changes in
the position of the calving front from 1851 to 2006 are indicated. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientiﬁc
Visualization Studio (http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003300/a003395/).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 28
that the observed recent acceleration (Rignot and Kanagaratnam
2006) of Jakobshavn Isbrae may be attributed to thinning from
the arrival of warm waters in the region.
Destabilization of ﬂoating ice shelves has been widespread
along the Antarctic Peninsula with seven collapsing in the last
20 years. Warming along the Peninsula has been dramatic, and
on the western side has been substantially above the global
average. Most recently, in March 2009, more than 400 square
kilometers collapsed off the Wilkins Ice Shelf on the western
side of the Antarctic Peninsula. A number of mechanisms
are thought to play important roles in destabilizing ﬂoating
Antarctic ice shelves. These include: surface warming leading to
the creation of melt ponds and subsequent fracturing of existing
crevasses (van den Broeke 2005); subsurface ice shelf melting
from warming ocean waters (Rignot et al. 2008b); and internal
ice shelf stresses (Bruan and Humbert 2009). While the collapse
of a ﬂoating ice shelf does not itself raise sea level, its collapse
is followed by rapid acceleration of glacier outﬂow – which does
raise sea level – due to the removal of the ice shelf buttressing
effect (e.g. Rignot et al. 2004; Scambos et al. 2004).
There is evidence for the melting of ice shelves in the Amundsen
Sea, with impacts on the ﬂow speed of glaciers draining this part
of West Antarctica. A recent modeling study has suggested
that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would begin to collapse when
ocean temperatures in the vicinity of any one of the ice shelves
that surround it warm by about 5°C (Pollard and DeConto
2009). There is also evidence that these changes are not limited
to West Antarctica and may also affect the coastline of East
Antarctica, for example in Wilkes Land (Pritchard et al. 2009;
Shepherd and Wingham 2007). The widespread thinning and
acceleration of glaciers along the Antarctic coast may indicate
a signiﬁcant impact of oceanic changes on glacier dynamics, a
factor that has received little attention in past IPCC reports due
to the lack of observational data on ice-ocean interactions and
how climate change might inﬂuence coastal ocean waters.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 29
❏The observed summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has far exceeded the worst-case
projections from climate models of IPCC AR4.
❏The warming commitment associated with existing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels means
it is very likely that in the coming decades the summer Arctic Ocean will become ice-free,
although the precise timing of this remains uncertain.
❏Satellite observations show a small increase of Antarctic sea-ice extent and changes to
seasonality, although there is considerable regional variability. This is most likely due to
changes in Southern Ocean winds associated with stratospheric ozone-depletion.
Arctic Sea Ice
Perhaps the most stunning observational change since the IPCC
AR4 has been the shattering of the previous Arctic summer
minimum sea ice extent record – something not predicted by
climate models. Averaged over the ﬁve-day period leading up
to September 16, 2007, the total extent of sea ice in the Arctic
was reduced to an area of only 4.1 million square kilometers (see
Figure 12), surpassing the previous minimum set in 2005 by 1.2
million square kilometers (about the same size as France, Spain,
Portugal, Belgium and Netherlands combined). The median
September minimum sea ice extent since observations with the
current generation of multi-frequency passive microwave sensors
commenced in 1979 to 2000 was 6.7 million square kilometers.
Compared to the median, the 2007 record involved melting 2.6
million square kilometers more ice (~40% of the median).
Figure 12. Arctic sea ice extent over the ﬁve days leading up to and including September 16, 2007 compared to the
average sea-ice minimum extent for the period 1979- 2006. Sourced from the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientiﬁc
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 30
The September Arctic sea ice extent over the last several decades
has decreased at a rate of 11.1 ± 3.3%/decade (NSIDC 2009).
This dramatic retreat has been much faster than that simulated
by any of the climate models assessed in the IPCC AR4 (Figure
13). This is likely due to a combination of several model
deﬁciencies, including: 1) incomplete representation of ice albedo
physics, including the treatment of melt ponds (e.g., Pedersen
et al. 2009) and the deposition of black carbon (e.g. Flanner et
al. 2007; Ramanathan and Carmichael 2008); and 2) incomplete
representation of the physics of vertical and horizontal mixing in
the ocean (e.g. Arzel et al. 2006). Winter Arctic sea ice extent
has also decreased since 1979, but at a slower rate than in
summer. The February extent has decreased at a rate of 2.9 ±
0.8%/decade (NSIDC 2009).
The thickness of Arctic sea ice has also been on a steady decline
over the last several decades. For example, Lindsay et al. (2009)
estimated that the September sea ice thickness has been
decreasing at a rate of 57 centimeters per decade since 1987.
Similar decreases in sea-ice thickness have been detected in
winter. For example, within the area covered by submarine sonar
measurements, Kwok and Rothrock (2009) show that the overall
mean winter thickness of 3.64 meters in 1980 decreased to only
1.89 meters by 2008 — a net decrease of 1.75 meters, or 48%.
By the end of February 2009, less than 10% of Arctic sea ice was
more than two years old, down from the historic values of 30%.
When Will the Arctic Ocean be Ice-Free?
Due to the existence of natural variability within the climate
system, it is not possible to predict the precise year that the
Arctic Ocean will become seasonally ice free. Nevertheless, the
warming commitment associated with existing atmospheric
greenhouse gas levels very likely means that a summer ice-free
Arctic is inevitable. Evidence is also emerging to suggest that
the transition to an ice-free summer in the Arctic might be
expected to occur abruptly, rather than slowly (Holland et al.
2006), because of amplifying feedbacks inherent within the Arctic
climate system. In fact, in one of the simulations of the NCAR
Climate System Model version 3 (CCSM3) discussed in Holland
et al (2006), the Arctic summer became nearly ice-free by 2040.
As noted by Lawrence et al. (2008), an abrupt reduction in Arctic
summer sea ice extent also triggers rapid warming on land and
subsequent permafrost degradation.
Antarctic Sea Ice
Unlike the Arctic, Antarctic sea-ice extent changes have been
more subtle, with a net annual-mean area increase of ~1% per
decade over the period 1979–2006 (Cavalieri and Parkinson
2008; Comiso and Nishio 2008). There have however been
large regional changes in Antarctic sea-ice distribution: for
example, the Weddell and Ross Sea areas have shown increased
extent linked to changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation,
while the western Antarctic Peninsula region and the coast of
West Antarctica (Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas) show a
signiﬁcant decline consistent with more northerly winds and
surface warming observed there (Lefebvre et al. 2004; Turner et
al. 2009; Steig et al. 2009). These regional changes are linked to
a major change in the seasonality of the ice; that is, its duration
and the timing of the annual advance and retreat (Stammerjohn
et al. 2008).
Since Antarctica is a land mass surrounded by the vast Southern
Ocean, whereas the Arctic is a small ocean surrounded by
vast amounts of land, and as oceans respond less rapidly
than land to warming because of their thermal stability, one
would expect, and indeed climate models show, a delayed
Figure 13. Observed (red line) and modeled September Arctic sea ice extent in millions of square kilometers. The solid black line gives
the ensemble mean of the 13 IPCC AR4 models while the dashed black lines represent their range. From Stroeve et al. (2007) updated
to include data for 2008. The 2009 minimum has recently been calculated at 5.10 million km2, the third lowest year on record, and
still well below the IPCC worst case scenario.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 31
warming response around Antarctica. In addition, Turner et al.
(2009) note that stratospheric ozone depletion arising from
the anthropogenic release of chloroﬂuorocarbons (CFCs) has
led to the strengthening of surface winds around Antarctica
during December to February (summer). They argue that
these strengthened winds are in fact the primary cause for
the slight positive trend in Antarctic sea ice extent observed
over the last three decades. However, as CFCs are regulated
under the Montreal Protocol and have declining atmospheric
concentrations, the ozone hole over Antarctica is expected to
recover and hence one anticipates an acceleration of sea ice melt
in the Southern Hemisphere in the decades ahead.
There are few data available on the thickness distribution of
Antarctic pack ice, and no information on any changes in the
thickness of Antarctic sea ice.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 33
Isn’t Antarctica cooling and Antarctic sea ice increasing?
Antarctica is not cooling: it has warmed overall over at least the past 50 years. Although the weather station at
the South Pole shows cooling over this period, this single weather station is not representative. For example, there
is a warming trend at Vostok, the only other long-term monitoring station in the interior of the continent. Several
independent analyses (Chapman and Walsh 2008; Monaghan et al. 2008; Goosse et al. 2009; Steig et al. 2009)
show that on average, Antarctica has warmed by about 0.5°C since wide-scale measurements began in the 1957
International Geophysical Year, with particularly rapid warming around the Antarctic Peninsula region and over the
West Antarctic Ice Sheet (Figure 14 shows the mean trend from 1957-2006). Furthermore, there is direct evidence
from borehole measurements that warming in West Antarctica began no later than the 1930s (Barrett et al. 2009).
Since the development of the Antarctic ozone hole in the late 1970s, there has been a strengthening of the
circumpolar winds around Antarctica, which tends to reduce the amount of warmer air reaching the interior of
the continent. The stronger winds are due to cooling in the upper atmosphere, which are in turn a result of ozone
depletion caused by chloroﬂuorocarbons. As a consequence, much of East Antarctica has cooled in the summer and
autumn seasons since the late 1970s. Ironically, human emissions of CFCs are thus helping to partly offset interior
Antarctic warming, analogous to the global dimming due to sulphate aerosols. As the ozone hole gradually repairs
over the coming century, the cooling offset is likely to diminish.
The factors that determine sea ice extent around Antarctica are very different from those in the Arctic, because
Antarctica is a continent sited around the pole and surrounded by water, just the opposite of the Arctic geography.
The extent of sea ice around Antarctica is strongly determined by the circumpolar winds which spread the ice out
from the continent, and by the position of the polar front where the ice encounters warmer ocean waters. Sea ice
cover in Antarctica shows a slight upward trend, consistent with the increase in circumpolar winds mentioned above.
In West Antarctica, where the temperature increases are the greatest, sea ice has declined at a statistically signiﬁcant
rate since at least the 1970s.
Figure 14. Annual mean air temperature trend in °C/decade during 1957-2006 from Steig et al. .
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 34
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 35
❏Estimates of ocean heat uptake have converged and are found to be 50% higher than previous
❏Global ocean surface temperature reached the warmest ever recorded for each of June, July
and August 2009.
❏Ocean acidiﬁcation and ocean de-oxygenation have been identiﬁed as potentially devastating
for large parts of the marine ecosystem.
Detection of how climate change is impacting the oceans has
improved markedly since the IPCC AR4. Signiﬁcant changes in
temperature, salinity and biogeochemical properties have been
measured. These changes are consistent with the observed 50-
year warming, rainfall and CO2 trends in the atmosphere. There
have also been important new analyses of the trends in a broader
range of properties since the IPCC AR4, including acidiﬁcation
and oxygen. This has improved our understanding of the
changing state of the oceans and also identiﬁed new issues.
Where new estimates of ocean change exist since IPCC AR4,
they tend to be larger and also more consistent with projections
of climate change (e.g., global heat content).
There has been a long-term sustained warming trend in ocean
surface temperatures over the past 50 years (Figure 15). Satellite
measurements for the surface ocean showed 2007 to be the
warmest year ever recorded, despite the extremely strong El Niño
of 1997/1998. The year 2008 was cooler due to an intense
temporary La-Niña event, whereas ocean temperatures up until
the time of publication are tracking toward record warmth in
2009. For example, global ocean surface temperature was the
warmest ever recorded for June, for July and for August in 2009.
Increases in oceanic heat content in the upper ocean (0-700m)
between 1963 and 2003 have been found to be 50% higher than
previous estimates (Domingues et al. 2008, Bindoff et al. 2007).
The higher estimates of heat content change are now consistent
with observations of sea-level rise over the last 50 years,
resolving a long standing scientiﬁc problem in understanding
the contribution of thermal expansion to sea-level (Domingues
et al. 2008). Observations also show deep-ocean warming that
is much more widespread in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans
(Johnson et al. 2008a, Johnson et al. 2008b) than previously
Salinity and the Hydrological Cycle
More comprehensive analyses of ocean salinity show a
freshening of high latitudes, while regions of excess evaporation
over precipitation have become saltier. The salinity changes are
consistent with a strengthening of the hydrological cycle. The
patterns of salinity change are also consistent with regional
circulation and inter-basin exchanges. We now have increased
evidence that the long-term trends in patterns of rainfall over the
global ocean, as reﬂected in salinity, can be attributed to human
inﬂuence (Stott et al. 2008).
Climate Change and Ocean Circulation
Surprising salinity changes in Antarctic bottom waters provide
additional evidence of increased melt from the ice-sheets and ice
shelves (Rintoul 2007). The Arctic shows strong evidence for
increased precipitation and river run-off. Intermediate layers in
the Arctic Ocean have warmed notably (Polyakov et al. 2004).
Consistent with current model results, observations are yet
to detect any indication of a sustained change in the North
Atlantic Ocean circulation (e.g. Hansen and Østerhus 2007).
Regional climate change is often organized and expressed around
the main patterns of variation such as the North Atlantic
Oscillation, El Niño, and the Southern Annular Mode. These
patterns themselves may be affected by greenhouse gases,
leading to either larger ﬂuctuations, or a preferred state in
coming decades (e.g., a trend toward a different type of El Niño
event, Yeh et al. 2009; Latif and Keenlyside 2009). Currently the
inﬂuence of regional climate modes on ocean circulation is larger
than the underlying trends attributable to anthropogenic climate
The stability of the North Atlantic Ocean circulation is vitally
important for North American and European climate. For
example, a slowdown of these ocean currents could lead to
a more rapid rise of regional sea level along the northeast US
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 36
coast (Yin et al. 2009). The IPCC AR4 concluded that there is
greater than 90% probability of a slowdown of this ocean current
system, and less than 10% risk of a “large abrupt transition”
by the year 2100. As noted in the Synthesis and Assessment
Project 3.4 of the US Climate Change Science Program (Delworth
et al. 2008), no comprehensive climate model projects such a
transition within this century. However, given uncertainty in
our ability to model nonlinear threshold behaviour, and the
recent suggestion that models may be too stable (Hofman and
Rahmstorf 2009) we cannot completely exclude the possibility of
such an abrupt transition.
Ocean Acidiﬁcation, Carbon Uptake and Ocean
The CO2 content of the oceans increased by 118 ± 19 Gt (1
Gt = 109 tons) between the end of the pre-industrial period
(about 1750) and 1994, and continues to increase by about
2 Gt each year (Sabine et al. 2004). The increase in ocean CO2
has caused a direct decrease in surface ocean pH by an average
of 0.1 units since 1750 and an increase in acidity by more than
30% (Orr et al. 2005: McNeil and Matear 2007; Riebesell, et al.
2009). Calcifying organisms and reefs have been shown to be
particularly vulnerable to high CO2, low pH waters (Fabry et al.
New in-situ evidence shows a tight dependence between
calciﬁcation and atmospheric CO2, with smaller shells evident
during higher CO2 conditions over the past 50,000 years (Moy
et al. 2009). Furthermore, due to pre-existing conditions, the
polar regions of the Arctic and Southern Oceans are expected to
start dissolving certain shells once the atmospheric levels reach
450ppm (~2030 under business-as-usual; McNeil and Matear
2008: Orr et al. 2009).
There is new evidence for a continuing decrease in dissolved
oxygen concentrations in the global oceans (Oschlies et al.
2008), and there is for the ﬁrst time signiﬁcant evidence that the
large equatorial oxygen minimum zones are already expanding
in a warmer ocean (Stramma et al. 2008). Declining oxygen is a
stress multiplier that causes respiratory issues for large predators
(Rosa and Seibel 2008) and signiﬁcantly compromises the ability
of marine organisms to cope with acidiﬁcation (Brewer 2009).
Increasing areas of marine anoxia have profound impacts on the
marine nitrogen cycle, with yet unknown global consequences
(Lam et al. 2009). A recent modeling study (Hofmann and
Schellnhuber 2009) points to the risk of a widespread expansion
of regions lacking in oxygen in the upper ocean if increases in
atmospheric CO2 continue.
Trend in ocean surface temperature (°C, 1959 − 2008)
180° 120° W 60° W 0° 60°E 120° E 180°
Figure 15. Long-term 50-year change in sea surface temperature (SST) during 1959-2008 calculated by ﬁtting a linear trend to
50 years of monthly SST data at each grid point. The SST ﬁelds are from the Hadley Centre data set as described by Rayner et al.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 37
globAl sEA lEVEl
❏Satellite measurements show sea-level is rising at 3.4 millimeters per year since these
records began in 1993. This is 80% faster than the best estimate of the IPCC Third
Assessment Report for the same time period.
❏Accounting for ice-sheet mass loss, sea-level rise until 2100 is likely to be at least twice as
large as that presented by IPCC AR4, with an upper limit of ~2m based on new ice-sheet
Population densities in coastal regions and on islands are about
three times higher than the global average. Currently 160 million
people live less than 1 meter above sea level. This allows even
small sea level rise to have signiﬁcant societal and economic
impacts through coastal erosion, increased susceptibility to
storm surges and resulting ﬂooding, ground-water contamination
by salt intrusion, loss of coastal wetlands, and other issues.
Since 1870, global sea level has risen by about 20 centimeters
(IPCC AR4). Since 1993, sea level has been accurately measured
globally from satellites. Before that time, the data come from
tide gauges at coastal stations around the world. Satellite and
tide-gauge measurements show that the rate of sea level rise
has accelerated. Statistical analysis reveals that the rate of rise
is closely correlated with temperature: the warmer it gets, the
faster sea level rises (Rahmstorf 2007).
Sea level rise is an inevitable consequence of global warming
for two main reasons: ocean water expands as it heats up, and
additional water ﬂows into the oceans from the ice that melts on
land. For the period 1961-2003, thermal expansion contributed
~40% to the observed sea level rise, while shrinking mountain
glaciers and ice sheets have contributed ~60% (Domingues et
Figure 16. Sea level change during 1970-2010. The tide gauge data are indicated in red (Church and White 2006) and
satellite data in blue (Cazenave et al. 2008). The grey band shows the projections of the IPCC Third Assessment report for
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 38
Sea level has risen faster than expected (Rahmstorf et al.
2007), see Figure 16. The average rate of rise for 1993-2008 as
measured from satellite is 3.4 millimeters per year (Cazenave
et al. 2008), while the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR)
projected a best estimate of 1.9 millimeters per year for the same
period. Actual rise has thus been 80% faster than projected by
models. (Note that the more recent models of the 2007 IPCC
report still project essentially the same sea level rise as those of
the TAR, to within 10%.)
Future sea level rise is highly uncertain, as the mismatch
between observed and modeled sea level already suggests. The
main reason for the uncertainty is in the response of the big ice
sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.
Sea level is likely to rise much more by 2100 than the often-cited
range of 18-59 centimeters from the IPCC AR4. As noted in
the IPCC AR4, the coupled models used in developing the 21st
century sea level projections did not include representations of
dynamic ice sheets. As such, the oft-cited 18-59 centimeters
projected sea level rise only included simple mass balance
estimates of the sea level contribution from the Greenland and
Antarctic ice sheets. As a consequence of an assumed positive
mass balance over the Antarctic ice sheet in the AR4, Antarctica
was estimated to have contributed to global sea level decline
during the 21st century in that report. However, the Antarctic
Ice Sheet is currently losing mass as a consequence of dynamical
processes (see Figure 10 in this report). Based on a number of
new studies, the synthesis document of the 2009 Copenhagen
Climate Congress (Richardson et al. 2009) concluded that
“updated estimates of the future global mean sea level rise are
about double the IPCC projections from 2007.”
Sea level will continue to rise for many centuries after global
temperature is stabilized, since it takes that much time for the
oceans and ice sheets to fully respond to a warmer climate. Some
recent estimates of future rise are compiled in Figure 17. These
estimates highlight the fact that unchecked global warming is
likely to raise sea level by several meters in coming centuries,
leading to the loss of many major coastal cities and entire island
19501900 2000 2050 2100 2200 22502150 2300
Sea level change
relative to 1990 [cm]
Delta Committee, 2008
Figure 17. Some recent projections of future sea level rise. Historical data from Church and White (2006). Future projections are
from Rahmstorf (2007) and WBGU (2006), while those projections represented here as ‘Delta Committee’ are from Vellinga et al.,
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 40
AbruPt ChAngE AnD tiPPing Points
❏There are several elements in the climate system that could pass a tipping point this century
due to human activities, leading to abrupt and/or irreversible change.
❏1 °C global warming (above 1980-1999) carries moderately signiﬁcant risks of passing large-
scale tipping points, and 3 °C global warming would give substantial or severe risks.
❏There are prospects for early warning of approaching tipping points, but if we wait until a
transition begins to be observed, in some cases it would be unstoppable.
What is a tipping point?
A tipping point is a critical threshold at which the future state of
a system can be qualitatively altered by a small change in forcing
(Lenton et al. 2008; Schellnhuber 2009). A tipping element is
a part of the Earth system (at least sub-continental in scale)
that has a tipping point (Lenton et al. 2008). Policy-relevant
tipping elements are those that could be forced past a tipping
point this century by human activities. Abrupt climate change
is the subset of tipping point change which occurs faster than
its cause. Tipping point change also includes transitions that
are slower than their cause (in both cases the rate is determined
by the system itself). In either case the change in state may
be reversible or irreversible. Reversible means that when the
forcing is returned below the tipping point the system recovers
its original state, either abruptly or gradually. Irreversible means
that it does not (it takes a larger change in forcing to recover).
Reversibility in principle does not mean that changes will be
reversible in practice. A tipping element may lag anthropogenic
forcing such that once a transition begins to be observed, a
much larger change in state is already inevitable.
Figure 18. Map of some of the potential policy-relevant tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system overlain on population density.
Question marks indicate systems whose status as tipping elements is particularly uncertain. There are other potential tipping elements
that are missing from the map, for example shallow-water coral reefs (Veron et al. 2009) threatened in part by ocean acidiﬁcation (see
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 41
Are there tipping points in the Earth’s climate
There are a number of tipping points in the climate system,
based on understanding of its non-linear dynamics, and as
revealed by past abrupt climate changes and model behavior
(Pitman and Stouffer 2007; Schellnhuber 2009). Some models
pass tipping points in future projections, and recent observations
show abrupt changes already underway in the Arctic. Recent
work has identiﬁed a shortlist of nine potential policy-relevant
tipping elements in the climate system that could pass a tipping
point this century and undergo a transition this millennium
under projected climate change (Lenton et al. 2008). These are
shown with some other candidates in Figure 18.
Which ones are of the greatest concern? How has
this been assessed?
The tipping points of greatest concern are those that are
the nearest (least avoidable) and those that have the largest
negative impacts. Generally, the more rapid and less reversible a
transition is, the greater its impacts. Additionally, any amplifying
feedback to global climate change may increase concern, as can
interactions whereby tipping one element encourages tipping
another. The proximity of some tipping points has been assessed
through expert elicitation (Lenton et al. 2008; Kriegler et al.
2009). Proximity, rate and reversibility have been also assessed
through literature review (Lenton et al. 2008), but there is a need
for more detailed consideration of impacts. Some of the most
concerning regions and their tipping elements are now discussed:
Arctic: The Greenland ice sheet (GIS) may be nearing a tipping
point where it is committed to shrink (Lenton et al. 2008;
Kriegler et al. 2009). Striking ampliﬁcation of seasonal melt was
observed in 2007 associated with record Arctic summer sea-ice
loss (Mote 2007). Once underway the transition to a smaller
Greenland ice cap will have low reversibility, although it is likely
to take several centuries (and is therefore not abrupt). The
impacts via sea level rise will ultimately be large and global, but
will depend on the rate of ice sheet shrinkage.
Antarctic: The West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is currently
assessed to be further from a tipping point than the GIS, but this
is more uncertain (Lenton et al. 2008; Kriegler et al. 2009). The
WAIS has the potential for more rapid change and hence greater
impacts. The loss of ice-shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula,
such as Larsen B, followed by the acceleration of glaciers they
were buttressing, highlights a mechanism that could threaten
parts of the WAIS. The main East Antarctic ice sheet (EAIS) is
thought to be more stable than the WAIS. However, there is
evidence that changes are taking place along its marine sector,
which drains more ice than all of West Antarctica.
Amazonia: The Amazon rainforest experienced widespread
drought in 2005 turning the region from a sink to a source
(0.6 - 0.8 Gt C per year) of carbon (Phillips et al. 2009). If
anthropogenic-forced lengthening of the dry season continues
(Vecchi et al. 2006), and droughts increase in frequency or
severity (Cox et al. 2008), the system could reach a tipping point
resulting in dieback of up to ~80% of the rainforest (Cox et al.
2004; Scholze et al. 2006; Salazar et al. 2007; Cook and Vizy
2008), and its replacement by savannah. This could take a few
decades, would have low reversibility, large regional impacts, and
knock-on effects far away. Widespread dieback is expected in a
>4 °C warmer world (Kriegler 2009), and it could be committed
to at a lower global temperature, long before it begins to be
observed (Jones et al. 2009).
West Africa: The Sahel and West African Monsoon (WAM)
have experienced rapid but reversible changes in the past
including devastating drought from the late 1960s through the
1980s. Forecast future weakening of the Atlantic thermohaline
circulation contributing to ‘Atlantic Niño’ conditions, including
strong warming in the Gulf of Guinea (Cook and Vizy 2006),
could disrupt the seasonal onset of the WAM (Chang et al.
2008) and its later ‘jump’ northwards (Hagos 2007) into the
Sahel. Perversely, if the WAM circulation collapses, this could
lead to wetting of parts of the Sahel as moist air is drawn in
from the Atlantic to the West (Cook and Vizy 2006; Patricola
and Cook 2008), greening the region in what would be a rare
example of a positive tipping point.
India: The Indian Summer Monsoon is probably already being
disrupted (Ramanathan et al. 2005; Meehl et al. 2008) by an
atmospheric brown cloud haze that sits over the sub-continent
and, to a lesser degree, the Indian Ocean. This haze is comprised
of a mixture of soot, which absorbs sunlight, and some reﬂecting
sulfate. It causes heating of the atmosphere rather than the land
surface, weakening the seasonal establishment of a land-ocean
temperature gradient which is critical in triggering monsoon
onset (Ramanathan 2005). In some future projections, brown
cloud haze forcing could lead to a doubling of drought frequency
within a decade (Ramanathan 2005) with large impacts,
although transitions should be highly reversible.
Several other candidate tipping elements and mechanisms
could become a major concern, for example, carbon loss from
permafrost. Recently it has been suggested that a region of
permafrost known as the Yedoma, which stores up to ~500 Gt
C (Zimov et al. 2006) could be tipped into irreversible breakdown
driven by internal, biochemical heat generation (Khvorostyanov
et al. 2008a, 2008b). However, the tipping point is estimated to
be relatively distant.
How do tipping points relate to amplifying
feedbacks on climate change?
Tipping points are often confused with the phenomenon of
amplifying feedbacks on climate change. All tipping elements
must have some strong amplifying feedback – detailed elsewhere
(Lenton et al. 2008) – in their own internal or regional climate
dynamics in order to exhibit a threshold, but they need not
have an amplifying feedback to global climate change. Tipping
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 42
elements that could have an amplifying feedback to global
climate change include the Amazon rainforest (dieback would
make it a CO2 source, which could ultimately release up to ~100
Gt C), the thermohaline circulation (weakening or collapse would
lead to net out-gassing of CO2), and the Yedoma permafrost
(release of up to ~500 Gt C). Tipping elements that could have
a diminishing feedback on global climate change include boreal
forest (dieback would release CO2 but this would be outweighed
by cooling due to increased land surface albedo from unmasked
snow cover; Betts 2000), and the Sahel/Sahara (greening would
take up CO2 and probably increase regional cloud cover).
Should we be concerned about global amplifying
Amplifying feedbacks from individual tipping elements are mostly
fairly weak at the global scale. However, other (non tipping
element) amplifying feedbacks, including a potential future
switch in the average response of the land biosphere from a
CO2 sink to a CO2 source, could signiﬁcantly amplify CO2 rise
and global temperature on the century timescale (Friedlingstein
et al. 2006). The Earth’s climate system is already in a state of
strong amplifying feedback from relatively fast physical climate
responses (Bony et al. 2006) (e.g. water vapor feedback). In
any system with strong amplifying feedback, relatively small
additional feedbacks can have a disproportionate impact on the
global state (in this case, temperature), because of the non-linear
way in which ampliﬁers work together.
Is there a global tipping point?
A global tipping point can only occur if a net amplifying feedback
becomes strong enough to produce a threshold whereby the
global system is committed to a change in state, carried by its
own internal dynamics. Despite much talk in the popular media
about such ‘runaway’ climate change there is as yet no strong
evidence that the Earth as a whole is near such a threshold.
Instead ‘ampliﬁed’ climate change is a much better description of
what we currently observe and project for the future.
Which anthropogenic forcing agents are
The total cumulative emissions of CO2 (and other long-lived
greenhouse gases) determine long-term committed climate
changes and hence the fate of those tipping elements that
are sensitive to global mean temperature change, are slow to
respond, and/or have more distant thresholds. Key examples are
the large ice sheets (GIS and WAIS). Uneven sulfate (Rotstatyn
and Lohmann 2002) and soot (Ramanathan 2005; Ramanathan
and Carmichael 2008) aerosol forcing are most dangerous for
monsoons. Soot deposition on snow and ice (Ramanathan
and Carmichael 2008; Flanner et al. 2007) is a key danger to
Arctic tipping elements as it is particularly effective at forcing
melting (Flanner et al. 2007). Increasing soot aerosol, declining
sulfate aerosol (Shindell and Faluvegi 2009), and increasing
short-lived greenhouse gases (Hansen et al. 2007) (methane
and tropospheric ozone) have also contributed to rapid Arctic
warming, and together far outweigh the CO2 contribution. The
current mitigation of SO2 emissions and hence sulfate aerosol is
a mixed blessing for climate tipping elements, it may for example
be beneﬁting the Sahel region (Rotstayn and Lohmann 2002) but
endangering the Amazon (Cox et al. 2008) and the Arctic sea-ice
(Shindell and Faluvegi 2009). Land cover change may also drive
large areas of continents from being relatively robust to climate
change to being highly vulnerable.
Is there any prospect for early warning of an
approaching tipping point?
Recent progress has been made in identifying and testing generic
potential early warning indicators of an approaching tipping
point (Lenton et al. 2008; Livina and Lenton 2007; Dakos et al.
2008; Lenton et al. 2009; Scheffer et al. 2009). Slowing down
in response to perturbation is a nearly universal property of
systems approaching various types of tipping point (Dakos et al.
2008; Scheffer et al. 2009). This has been successfully detected
in past climate records approaching different transitions (Livina
and Lenton 2007; Dakos et al. 2008), and in model experiments
(Livina and Lenton 2007; Dakos et al. 2008; Lenton et al.
2009). Flickering between states may also occur prior to a more
permanent transition (Bakke et al. 2009). Other early warning
indicators are being explored for ecological tipping points (Biggs
et al. 2009), including increasing variance (Biggs et al. 2009),
skewed responses (Biggs et al. 2009; Guttal and Jayaprakash
2008) and their spatial equivalents (Guttal and Jayaprakash
2009). These could potentially be applied to anticipating climate
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 43
lEssons FroM thE PAst
❏The reconstruction of past climate reveals that the recent warming observed in the Arctic,
and in the Northern Hemisphere in general, are anomalous in the context of natural
climate variability over the last 2000 years.
❏New ice-core records conﬁrm the importance of greenhouse gases for past temperatures on
Earth, and show that CO2 levels are higher now than they have ever been during the last
Reconstructing the last two millennia
Knowledge of climate during past centuries can help us to
understand natural climate change and put modern climate
change into context. There have been a number of studies to
reconstruct trends in global and hemispheric surface temperature
over the last millennium (e.g. Mann et al. 1998; Esper et al.
2002; Moberg et al. 2005), all of which show recent Northern
Hemisphere warmth to be anomalous in the context of at least
the past millennium, and likely longer (Jansen et al. 2007). The
ﬁrst of these reconstructions has come to be known as the
‘hockey stick’ reconstruction (Mann et al. 1998, 1999). Some
aspects of the hockey stick reconstruction were subsequently
questioned, e.g. whether the 20th century was the warmest
at a hemispheric average scale (Soon and Baliunas 2003),
and whether the reconstruction is reproducible, or veriﬁable
(McIntyre and McKitrick 2003), or might be sensitive to the
method used to extract information from tree ring records
(McIntyre and McKitrick 2005a,b). Whilst these criticisms have
been rejected in subsequent work (e.g. Rutherford et al. 2005;
Wahl and Ammann 2006, 2007; Jansen et al. 2007) the US
National Research Council convened a committee to examine
the state of the science of reconstructing the climate of the
past millennium. The NRC report published in 2006 largely
supported the original ﬁndings of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) and
recommended a path toward continued progress in this area
Mann et al. (2008) addressed the recommendations of the NRC
report by reconstructing surface temperature at a hemispheric
and global scale for much of the last 2,000 years using a
greatly expanded data set for decadal-to-centennial climate
changes, along with recently updated instrumental data and
complementary methods that have been thoroughly tested and
Figure 19. Comparison of various Northern Hemisphere temperature reconstructions, with estimated 95% conﬁdence intervals
shown (from Mann et al. 2008).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 44
validated with climate model simulations. Their results extend
previous studies and conclude that recent Northern Hemisphere
surface temperature increases are likely anomalous in a long-term
context (Figure 19).
Kaufman et al. (2009) independently concluded that recent
Arctic warming is without precedent in at least 2000 years
(Figure 20) reversing a long-term millennial-scale cooling trend
caused by astronomical forcing (i.e. orbital cycles). Warmth
during the peak of the “Medieval Climate Anomaly” of roughly
AD 900-1100 may have rivalled modern warmth for certain
regions such as the western tropical Paciﬁc (Oppo et al. 2009),
and some regions neighbouring the North Atlantic (Mann et al.
in-press). However, such regional warming appears to reﬂect a
redistribution of warmth by changes in atmospheric circulation,
and is generally offset by cooling elsewhere (e.g. the eastern
and central tropical Paciﬁc) to yield hemispheric and global
temperatures that are lower than those of recent decades.
Ice Core Records of Greenhouse Gases
Changes in past atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane
(CH4) concentrations can be determined by measuring the
composition of air trapped in ice cores and through the analyses
of leaf stomata density and geochemical analyses of marine
The Dome Concordia (Dome C) ice core CO2 and CH4 records,
drilled by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica
(EPICA), were published in 2004 and 2005 detailing events
back to 440,000 years and 650,000 years respectively (EPICA
community members 2004; Siegenthaler et al. 2005). In 2008
the record was extended to 800,000 years (Lüthi et al. 2008;
Loulergue et al. 2008). The newly extended records reveal that
current greenhouse gas levels (~385ppm) are at least 40%
higher than at any time over the past 800,000 years. We must
travel back at least two to three million years, and perhaps as far
as ﬁfteen million years, to the Pliocene and Miocene epochs of
geological time to ﬁnd equivalent greenhouse gas levels in the
atmosphere (Haywood et al. 2007; Raymo et al. 1996; Kürschner
et al. 1996; Tripati et al. 2009).
Strong correlations of CH4 and CO2 with temperature
reconstructions are maintained throughout the new 800,000
year record (Lüthi et al. 2008; Loulergue et al. 2008). Temperature
warming typically comes before increases in atmospheric CO2
over the ice-core record. This ﬁnding is consistent with the view
that natural CO2 variations constitute a feedback in the glacial-
interglacial cycle rather than a primary cause (Shackleton 2000);
something that has recently been explained in detail with the
help of climate model experiments (Ganopolski and Roche 2009).
Changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun are the pacemaker
for glacial-interglacial cycles (Hays et al. 1976; Berger 1978), but
these rather subtle orbital changes must be ampliﬁed by climate
feedbacks in order to explain the large differences in global
temperature and ice volume, and the relative abruptness of the
transitions between glacial and interglacial periods (Berger et al.
1998; Clark et al. 1999).
Palaeo Constraints on Climate and Earth System
One of the key questions for climate research is to determine
how sensitively the Earth’s climate responds to a given change
Figure 20. Blue line: estimates of Arctic air temperatures over the last 2,000 years based on proxy records from lake sediments, ice
cores and tree rings. The green line shows the best ﬁt long-term cooling trend for the period ending 1900. The red line shows the
recent warming based on actual observations. (Courtesy Science, modiﬁed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 45
Isn’t climate always changing, even without human interference?
Of course. But past climate changes are no cause for complacency; indeed, they tell us that the Earth’s climate is very
sensitive to changes in forcing. Two main conclusions can be drawn from climate history:
Climate has always responded strongly if the radiation balance of the Earth was disturbed. That suggests the same will
happen again, now that humans are altering the radiation balance by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. In fact,
data from climate changes in the Earth’s history have been used to quantify how strongly a given change in the radiation
balance alters the global temperature (i.e., to determine the climate sensitivity). The data conﬁrm that our climate system
is as sensitive as our climate models suggest, perhaps even more so.
Impacts of past climate changes have been severe. The last great Ice Age, when it was globally 4-7 °C colder than now,
completely transformed the Earth’s surface and its ecosystems, and sea level was 120 meters lower. When the Earth
last was 2-3 °C warmer than now, during the Pliocene 3 million years ago, sea level was 25-35 meters higher due to the
smaller ice sheets present in the warmer climate.
Despite the large natural climate changes, the recent global warming does stick out already. Climate reconstructions
suggest that over the past two millennia, global temperature has never changed by more than 0.5 °C in a century (e.g.
Mann et al. 2008; and references therein).
in our planet’s radiation budget. This is often described by
the “Climate Sensitivity”, deﬁned as the equilibrium global
temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2
IPCC AR4 summarizes the research aimed at characterizing
the uncertainty in climate sensitivity (e.g. Andronova and
Schlesinger 2001; Frame et al. 2005; Annan and Hargreaves
2006) by stating that “climate sensitivity is likely to lie in the
range 2°C to 4.5°C, with a most likely value of about 3°C”. More
recent studies have agreed with this assessment (e.g. Knutti and
Hegerl 2008). These estimates of climate sensitivity have also
been used to determine the likely impacts, both environmental
and social/economic, of various CO2 stabilization scenarios,
or the level of greenhouse gas emissions consistent with
stabilization of the global mean temperature below a certain
value (e.g. Meinshausen et al. 2009; this document section
“Mitigating global warming”).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 46
Are we just in a natural warming phase, recovering from the “little ice age”?
No. A “recovery” of climate is not a scientiﬁc concept, since the climate does not respond like a pendulum that
swings back after it was pushed in one direction. Rather, the climate responds like a pot of water on the stove: it
can only get warmer if you add heat, according to the most fundamental law of physics, conservation of energy. The
Earth’s heat budget (its radiation balance) is well understood. By far the biggest change in the radiation balance over
the past 50 years, during which three quarters of global warming has occurred, is due to the human-caused increase
in greenhouse gas concentrations (see above). Natural factors have had a slightly cooling effect during this period.
Global temperatures are now not only warmer than in the 16th-19th centuries, sometimes dubbed the “the little ice
age” (although this term is somewhat misleading in that this largely regional phenomenon has little in common
with real ice ages). Temperatures are in fact now globally warmer than any time in the past 2000 years – even
warmer than in the “medieval optimum” a thousand years ago (see Figure 19). This is a point that all global climate
reconstructions by different groups of researchers, based on different data and methods, agree upon.
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 47
In climate history, didn’t CO2 change in response to temperature, rather than the other
It works both ways: CO2 changes affect temperature due to the greenhouse effect, while temperature changes affect
CO2 concentrations due to the carbon cycle response. This is what scientists call a feedback loop.
If global temperatures are changed, the carbon cycle will respond (typically with a delay of centuries). This can be
seen during the ice age cycles of the past 3 million years, which were caused by variations in the Earth’s orbit (the
so-called Milankovich cycles). The CO2 feedback ampliﬁed and globalized these orbital climate changes: without
the lowered CO2 concentrations and reduced greenhouse effect, the full extent of ice ages cannot be explained, nor
can the fact that the ice ages occurred simultaneously in both hemispheres. The details of the lag-relationship of
temperature and CO2 in Antarctic records have recently been reproduced in climate model experiments (Ganopolski
and Roche 2009) and they are entirely consistent with the major role of CO2 in climate change. During the warming
at the end of ice ages, CO2 was released from the oceans – just the opposite of what we observe today, where CO2 is
increasing in both the ocean and the atmosphere.
If the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is changed, then the temperature follows because of the greenhouse
effect. This is what is happening now that humans release CO2 from fossil sources. But this has also happened many
times in Earth’s history. CO2 concentrations have changed over millions of years due to natural carbon cycle changes
associated with plate tectonics (continental drift), and climate has tracked those CO2 changes (e.g. the gradual
cooling into ice-age climates over the past 50 million years).
A rapid carbon release, not unlike what humans are causing today, has also occurred at least once in climate history,
as sediment data from 55 million years ago show. This “Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum” brought a major global
warming of ~ 5 °C, a detrimental ocean acidiﬁcation and a mass extinction event. It serves as a stark warning to us
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 49
❏Global mean air-temperature is projected to warm 2°C – 7°C above pre-industrial by 2100.
The wide range is mainly due to uncertainty in future emissions.
❏There is a very high probability of the warming exceeding 2°C unless global emissions peak
and start to decline rapidly by 2020.
❏Warming rates will accelerate if positive carbon feedbacks signiﬁcantly diminish the
efﬁciency of the land and ocean to absorb our CO2 emissions.
❏Many indicators are currently tracking near or above the worst case projections from the
IPCC AR4 set of model simulations.
There has been no new coordinated set of future climate model
projections undertaken since the IPCC AR4. Instead, much
of the new research over the past few years has focused on
preparation for the next round of IPCC simulations for AR5, and
continued evaluation of the AR4 model runs. This includes new
analyses of the observed rate of climate change in comparison to
the IPCC AR4 projections (e.g., Rahmstorf 2007; Stroeve et al.
2007), and new calculations that take existing simulations and
incorporate coupled carbon feedbacks and other processes (e.g.
Zickfeld et al. 2009; Allen et al. 2009). While models exhibit
good skill at capturing the mean present-day climate, some
recent observed changes, notably sea-level rise and Arctic sea-ice
melt, are occurring at a faster rate than anticipated by IPCC AR4.
This is a cause for concern as it suggests that some amplifying
feedbacks and processes, such as land-ice melt, are occurring
faster than ﬁrst predicted.
The latest estimates of global mean air temperature projected out
to 2100 are shown in Figure 21. The wide range in the projection
envelope is primarily due to uncertainty in future emissions. At
the high end of emissions, with business as usual for several
decades to come, global mean warming is estimated to reach
4-7°C by 2100, locking in climate change at a scale that would
profoundly and adversely affect all of human civilization and all
of the world’s major ecosystems. At the lower end of emissions,
something that would require urgent, deep and long-lasting cuts in
fossil fuel use, and active preservation of the world’s forests, global
mean warming is projected to reach 2-3°C by century’s end. While
clearly a better outcome than the high emissions route, global
mean warming of even just 1.5-2.0°C still carries a signiﬁcant
risk of adverse impacts on ecosystems and human society. For
example, 2°C global temperature rise could lead to sufﬁcient
warming over Greenland to eventually melt much of its ice sheet
(Oppenheimer and Alley 2005), raising sea level by over six
meters and displacing hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Despite the certainty of a long-term warming trend in response
to rising greenhouse gases, there is no expectation that the
warming will be monotonic and follow the emissions pathway
on a year-to-year basis. This is because natural variability and
the 11-year solar cycle, as well as sporadic volcanic eruptions,
generate short-term variations superimposed on the long term
trend (Lean and Rind 2009). Even under a robust century-
long warming trend of around 4°C, we still expect to see the
temperature record punctuated by isolated but regular ten-year
periods of no trend, or even modest cooling (Easterling and
Wehner 2009). Such decades therefore do not spell the end of
global warming – emissions must peak and decline well before
that is to occur. In fact, the peak in global temperature might
not be reached until several centuries after emissions peak
(e.g., Allen et al. 2009). Even after emissions stop completely,
atmospheric temperatures are not expected to decline much
for many centuries to millennia (Matthews and Caldeira 2008;
Solomon et al. 2009; Eby et al. 2009) because of the long lifetime
of CO2 in the atmosphere. Furthermore, dry season rainfall
reductions in several regions are expected to become irreversible
(Solomon et al. 2009).
< Meltwater lake on the Greenland Ice Sheet
THE COPENHAGEN DIAGNOSIS > 50
Mitigating global warming
While global warming can be stopped, it cannot easily be
reversed due to the long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere (Solomon et al. 2009; Eby et al. 2009). Even
a thousand years after reaching a zero-emission society,
temperatures will remain elevated, likely cooling down by only
a few tenths of a degree below their peak values. Therefore,
decisions taken now have profound and practically irreversible
consequences for many generations to come, unless affordable
ways to extract CO2 from the atmosphere in massive amounts
can be found in the future. The chances of this do not appear to
The temperature at which global warming will ﬁnally stop
depends primarily on the total amount of CO2 released to the
atmosphere since industrialization (Meinshausen et al. 2009,
Allen et al. 2009, Zickfeld et al. 2009). This is again due to the
long life-time of atmospheric CO2. Therefore if global warming
is to be stopped, global CO2 emissions must eventually decline
to zero. The sooner emissions stop, the lower the ﬁnal warming
will be. From a scientiﬁc point of view, a cumulative CO2 budget
for the world would thus be a natural element of a climate
policy agreement. Such an agreed global budget could then be
distributed amongst countries, for example on the basis of equity
principles (e.g., WBGU 2009).
The most widely supported policy goal is to limit global warming
to at most 2 °C above the preindustrial temperature level (often
taken for example as the average 19th Century temperature,
although the exact deﬁnition does not matter much due to the
small variations in preindustrial temperatures). Many nations
have publically recognized the importance of this 2°C limit.
Furthermore, the group of Least Developed Countries as well as
the 43 small island states (AOSIS) are calling for limiting global
warming to only 1.5°C. The Synthesis Report of the Copenhagen
climate congress (Richardson et al. 2009), the largest climate
science conference of 2009, concluded that “Temperature rises
above 2 °C will be difﬁcult for contemporary societies to cope
with, and are likely to cause major societal and environmental
disruptions through the rest of the century and beyond.”
A number of recent scientiﬁc studies have investigated in detail
what global emissions trajectories would be compatible with
limiting global warming to 2 °C. The answer has to be given in
terms of probabilities, to reﬂect the remaining uncertainty in
the climate response to elevated CO2, and the uncertainty in
the stability of carbon stored in the land and ocean systems.
Meinshausen et al. (2009) found that if a total of 1000 Gigatons
of CO2 is emitted for the period 2000-2050, the likelihood of
exceeding the 2-degree warming limit is around 25%. In 2000-
2009, about 350 Gigatons have already been emitted, leaving
Figure 21. Reconstructed global-average temperature relative to 1800-1900 (blue) and projected global-average temperature out
to 2100 (the latter from IPCC AR4). The envelopes B1, A2, A1FI refer to the IPCC AR4 projections using those scenarios. The
reconstruction record is taken from Mann et al. (2008).
THE COPENHAGEN DIAGNOSIS > 51
only 650 Gigatons for 2010-2050. At current emission rates this
budget would be used up within 20 years.
An important consequence of the rapidly growing emissions
rate, and the need for a limited emissions budget, is that any
delay in reaching the peak in emissions drastically increases the
required rapidity and depth of future emissions cuts (see Figure
22 and also England et al. 2009). In Figure 22, emissions in the
green exemplary path are 4 Gt CO2 in the year 2050, which, with
a projected world population of around 9 billion, would leave
only less than half a ton per person per year. While the exact
number will depend strongly on the path taken, the required
decline in emissions combined with a growing population will
mean that by 2050, annual per capita CO2 emissions very likely
will need to be below 1 ton.
Although CO2 is the most important anthropogenic climate
forcing, other greenhouse gases as well as aerosols also play a
non-negligible role. Successful limitation of the non- CO2 climate
forcing would therefore create more leeway in the allowable CO2
emissions budget. Studies have shown that attractive options
for particularly rapid and cost-effective climate mitigation are the
reduction of black carbon (soot) pollution and tropospheric low-
level ozone (Wallack and Ramanathan 2009). In contrast to CO2,
these are very short-lived gases in the atmosphere, and therefore
respond rapidly to policy measures.
Figure 22. Examples of global emission pathways where cumulative CO2 emissions equal 750 Gt during the time period 2010-2050
(1 Gt C = 3.67 Gt CO2). At this level, there is a 67% probability of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2°C. The graph shows
that the later the peak in emissions is reached, the steeper their subsequent reduction has to be. The ﬁgure shows variants of a global
emissions scenario with different peak years: 2011 (green), 2015 (blue) and 2020 (red). In order to achieve compliance with these
curves, maximum annual reduction rates of 3.7 % (green), 5.3 % (blue) or 9.0 % (red) would be required (relative to 2008). (Source:
German Advisory Council on Global Change; WBGU 2009).
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 52
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Ian Allison is leader of the Ice Ocean Atmosphere and Climate
program in the Australian Antarctic Division, a Lead Author of
the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and the President of the
International Association of Cryospheric Sciences.
Nathan Bindoff is Professor of Physical Oceanography at the
University of Tasmania, Australia, and a Coordinating Lead
Author of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Robert Bindschadler is Chief Scientist of the Laboratory for
Hydrospheric and Biospheric Processes at NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center, USA, a Senior Fellow of NASA Goddard, an AGU
Fellow and past President of the International Glaciological
Peter Cox is Professor and Met Ofﬁce Chair in Climate System
Dynamics at the University of Exeter, UK, and a Lead Author of
the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
de Noblet, Nathalie
Nathalie de Noblet is a Research Scientist at the Laboratoire des
Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE), Gif-sur-Yvette,
Matthew England is an Australian Research Council Federation
Fellow, Professor of Physical Oceanography, an IPCC
Contributing Author and joint Director of the UNSW Climate
Change Research Centre (CCRC) at the University of New South
Jane Francis is a Senior Lecturer of Earth Sciences at Leeds
University, UK, and the Director of the Leeds University Centre
for Polar Science.
Nicolas Gruber is Professor of Environmental Physics at ETH
Zurich, Switzerland, and a contributing author of the IPCC
Fourth Assessment Report.
Alan Haywood is Reader in Palaeoclimatology at the School of
Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK, and a recent
recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Prize.
David Karoly is Professor of Meteorology and an ARC Federation
Fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Lead
Author of the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.
Georg Kaser is a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck,
Austria, a Lead Author of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report
and the IPCC Technical Paper on Climate Change and Water, and
the Immediate Past President of the International Association of
Le Quéré, Corinne
Corinne Le Quéré is Professor of Environmental Science at
the University of East Anglia, UK, a researcher at the British
Antarctic Survey, co-Chair of the Global Carbon Project and a
Lead Author of the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.
Tim Lenton is Professor of Earth System Science at the University
of East Anglia, UK and the recipient of the Times Higher
Education Award for Research Project of the Year 2008 for his
work on climate tipping points.
Michael E. Mann is a Professor in the Department of Meteorology
at Penn State University, USA, Director of the Penn State Earth
System Science Center, and a Lead Author of the IPCC Third
thE CoPEnhAgEn DiAgnosis > 60
Ben McNeil is an Australian Research Council Queen Elizabeth
II Research Fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre at the
University of New South Wales, Australia and an expert reviewer
of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Andy Pitman is joint director of the Climate Change Research
Centre at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and a
Lead Author of the IPCC Third and Fourth Assessment Reports.
Stefan Rahmstorf is Professor of Physics of the Oceans and
department head at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
Research in Germany, a Lead Author of the IPCC Fourth
Assessment Report and a member of the German government’s
Advisory Council on Global Change.
Eric Rignot is a glaciologist and Senior Research Scientist at
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA, a Professor of Earth
System Science at the University of California Irvine, and a Lead
Author of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
Schellnhuber, Hans Joachim
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is Professor for Theoretical Physics
and Director of the Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact
Research, Germany, Chair of the German Advisory Council on
Global Change (WBGU) and a longstanding member of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Stephen Schneider is the Lane Professor of Interdisciplinary
Environmental Studies at Stanford University, an IPCC Lead
Author of all four Assessment and two Synthesis Reports, and
founder and Editor of the Journal Climatic Change.
Steven Sherwood is a Professor of atmospheric sciences at the
Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South
Wales, Australia, and a contributing author to the IPCC Fourth
Richard C. J. Somerville is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San
Diego, USA and a Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC Fourth
Konrad Steffen is Director of the Cooperative Institute for
Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and Professor of
Climatology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, USA, and
the Chair of the World Climate Research Programme’s Climate
and Cryosphere (CliC) project.
Eric J. Steig is Director of the Quaternary Research Center,
and Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of
Martin Visbeck is Professor of Physical Oceanography and
Deputy Director of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, IFM-
GEOMAR, Germany, Chair of Kiel’s multidisciplinary research
cluster of excellence “The Future Ocean” and Co-Chair of the
World Climate Research Programme’s Climate Variability and
Predictability (CLIVAR) Project.
Andrew Weaver is Professor and Canada Research Chair in
Climate Modelling and Analysis at the University of Victoria,
Canada, a Lead Author of the IPCC Second, Third, and Fourth
Assessment Reports and Chief Editor of the Journal of Climate.