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Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2018 May 13;376(2119). pii: 20160449. doi: 10.1098/rsta.2016.0449.

The utility of the historical record for assessing the transient climate response to cumulative emissions.

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College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
College of Engineering, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.


The historical observational record offers a way to constrain the relationship between cumulative carbon dioxide emissions and global mean warming. We use a standard detection and attribution technique, along with observational uncertainties to estimate the all-forcing or 'effective' transient climate response to cumulative emissions (TCRE) from the observational record. Accounting for observational uncertainty and uncertainty in historical non-CO2 radiative forcing gives a best-estimate from the historical record of 1.84°C/TtC (1.43-2.37°C/TtC 5-95% uncertainty) for the effective TCRE and 1.31°C/TtC (0.88-2.60°C/TtC 5-95% uncertainty) for the CO2-only TCRE. While the best-estimate TCRE lies in the lower half of the IPCC likely range, the high upper bound is associated with the not-ruled-out possibility of a strongly negative aerosol forcing. Earth System Models have a higher effective TCRE range when compared like-for-like with the observations over the historical period, associated in part with a slight underestimate of diagnosed cumulative emissions relative to the observational best-estimate, a larger ensemble mean-simulated CO2-induced warming, and rapid post-2000 non-CO2 warming in some ensemble members.This article is part of the theme issue 'The Paris Agreement: understanding the physical and social challenges for a warming world of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels'.


Paris Agreement; carbon budgets; carbon cycle; climate change

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