Limits to global and Australian temperature change this century based on expert judgment of climate sensitivity
The projected warming of surface air temperature at the global and regional scale by the end of the century is directly related to emissions and Earth’s climate sensitivity. Projections are typically produced using an ensemble of climate models such as CMIP5, however the range of climate sensitivity in models doesn’t cover the entire range considered plausible by expert judgment. Of particular interest from a risk-management perspective is the lower impact outcome associated with low climate sensitivity and the low-probability, high-impact outcomes associated with the top of the range. Here we scale climate model output to the limits of expert judgment of climate sensitivity to explore these limits. This scaling indicates an expanded range of projected change for each emissions pathway, including a much higher upper bound for both the globe and Australia. We find the possibility of exceeding a warming of 2 °C since pre-industrial is projected under high emissions for every model even scaled to the lowest estimate of sensitivity, and is possible under low emissions under most estimates of sensitivity. Although these are not quantitative projections, the results may be useful to inform thinking about the limits to change until the sensitivity can be more reliably constrained, or this expanded range of possibilities can be explored in a more formal way. When viewing climate projections, accounting for these low-probability but high-impact outcomes in a risk management approach can complement the focus on the likely range of projections. They can also highlight the scale of the potential reduction in range of projections, should tight constraints on climate sensitivity be established by future research.