Climate Dynamics

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 1041-1053

First online:

Abrupt CO2 experiments as tools for predicting and understanding CMIP5 representative concentration pathway projections

  • Peter GoodAffiliated withMet Office Hadley Centre Email author 
  • , Jonathan M. GregoryAffiliated withMet Office Hadley CentreDepartment of Meteorology, Walker Institute for Climate System Research, University of Reading
  • , Jason A. LoweAffiliated withMet Office Hadley Centre
  • , Timothy AndrewsAffiliated withMet Office Hadley Centre

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A fast simple climate modelling approach is developed for predicting and helping to understand general circulation model (GCM) simulations. We show that the simple model reproduces the GCM results accurately, for global mean surface air temperature change and global-mean heat uptake projections from 9 GCMs in the fifth coupled model inter-comparison project (CMIP5). This implies that understanding gained from idealised CO2 step experiments is applicable to policy-relevant scenario projections. Our approach is conceptually simple. It works by using the climate response to a CO2 step change taken directly from a GCM experiment. With radiative forcing from non-CO2 constituents obtained by adapting the Forster and Taylor method, we use our method to estimate results for CMIP5 representative concentration pathway (RCP) experiments for cases not run by the GCMs. We estimate differences between pairs of RCPs rather than RCP anomalies relative to the pre-industrial state. This gives better results because it makes greater use of available GCM projections. The GCMs exhibit differences in radiative forcing, which we incorporate in the simple model. We analyse the thus-completed ensemble of RCP projections. The ensemble mean changes between 1986–2005 and 2080–2099 for global temperature (heat uptake) are, for RCP8.5: 3.8 K (2.3 × 1024 J); for RCP6.0: 2.3 K (1.6 × 1024 J); for RCP4.5: 2.0 K (1.6 × 1024 J); for RCP2.6: 1.1 K (1.3 × 1024 J). The relative spread (standard deviation/ensemble mean) for these scenarios is around 0.2 and 0.15 for temperature and heat uptake respectively. We quantify the relative effect of mitigation action, through reduced emissions, via the time-dependent ratios (change in RCPx)/(change in RCP8.5), using changes with respect to pre-industrial conditions. We find that the effects of mitigation on global-mean temperature change and heat uptake are very similar across these different GCMs.


Global climate change Sea-level Projections Simple models