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Date: 21 Jan 2014

Global-scale climate impact functions: the relationship between climate forcing and impact

Abstract

Although there is a strong policy interest in the impacts of climate change corresponding to different degrees of climate change, there is so far little consistent empirical evidence of the relationship between climate forcing and impact. This is because the vast majority of impact assessments use emissions-based scenarios with associated socio-economic assumptions, and it is not feasible to infer impacts at other temperature changes by interpolation. This paper presents an assessment of the global-scale impacts of climate change in 2050 corresponding to defined increases in global mean temperature, using spatially-explicit impacts models representing impacts in the water resources, river flooding, coastal, agriculture, ecosystem and built environment sectors. Pattern-scaling is used to construct climate scenarios associated with specific changes in global mean surface temperature, and a relationship between temperature and sea level used to construct sea level rise scenarios. Climate scenarios are constructed from 21 climate models to give an indication of the uncertainty between forcing and response. The analysis shows that there is considerable uncertainty in the impacts associated with a given increase in global mean temperature, due largely to uncertainty in the projected regional change in precipitation. This has important policy implications. There is evidence for some sectors of a non-linear relationship between global mean temperature change and impact, due to the changing relative importance of temperature and precipitation change. In the socio-economic sectors considered here, the relationships are reasonably consistent between socio-economic scenarios if impacts are expressed in proportional terms, but there can be large differences in absolute terms. There are a number of caveats with the approach, including the use of pattern-scaling to construct scenarios, the use of one impacts model per sector, and the sensitivity of the shape of the relationships between forcing and response to the definition of the impact indicator.

This article is part of a Special Issue on “The QUEST-GSI Project” edited by Nigel Arnell.