by J. Curry, January 31, 2020 in WUWT-C. Rotter
The IPCC’s First Assessment Report (FAR) made forecasts or projections of future concentrations of carbon dioxide that turned out to be too high.
From 1990 to 2018, the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations was about 25% higher in FAR’s Business-as-usual forecast than in reality. More generally, FAR’s Business-as-usual scenario expected much more forcing from greenhouse gases than has actually occurred, because its forecast for the concentration of said gases was too high; this was a problem not only for CO2, but also for methane and for gases regulated by the Montreal Protocol. This was a key reason FAR’s projections of atmospheric warming and sea level rise likewise have been above observations.
Some researchers and commentators have argued that this means FAR’s mistaken projections of atmospheric warming and sea level rise do not stem from errors in physical science and climate modelling. After all, emissions are for climate models an input, not an output. Emissions depend largely on economic growth, and can also be affected by population growth, intentional emission reductions (such as those implemented by the aforementioned Montreal Protocol), and other factors that lie outside the field of physical science. Under this line of reasoning, it makes no sense to blame the IPCC for failing to predict the right amount of atmospheric warming and sea level rise, because that would be the same as blaming it for failing to predict emissions.
Readers who have made it to this part of the article probably want a summary, so here it goes:
- Hausfather estimates that FAR’s Business-as-usual scenario over-projected forcings for the 1990-2017 period by 55%. This would mean a difference of 0.59 w/m2 between FAR and reality.
- Lower-than-expected concentrations of Montreal Protocol gases explain about 0.19 w/m2 of the difference. With the big caveat that Montreal Protocol accounting is a mess of CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs, stratospheric ozone, and perhaps other things I’m not even aware of.
- FAR didn’t account for tropospheric ozone, and this ‘unexplains’ about 0.07 w/m2. So there’s still 0.45-0.5 w/m2 of forcing overshoot coming from something else, if Hausfather’s numbers are correct.
- N2O is irrelevant in these numbers
- CO2 concentration was significantly over-forecasted by the IPCC, and that of methane grossly so. It’s safe to assume that methane and CO2 account for most or all of the remaining difference between FAR’s projections and reality.
Again, this is a rough calculation. As mentioned before, an exact calculation has to take into account for many issues I didn’t consider here. I really hope Hausfather’s paper is the beginning of a trend in properly evaluating climate models of the past, and that means properly accounting for (and documenting) how expected forcings and actual forcings differed.