During the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recently scientists warned that the pace of climate change â€have largely outpacedâ€ the models and estimates from the IPCC 2007 report. They warned that the pace of man-made climate change is much faster than previously expected due to increased emissions from the industrial sector and that the higher temperatures have started to trigger self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms.
"We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously in climate model simulations," Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University and member of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said.
If you have been following this blog for a while you know Iâ€™ve warned on numerous occasions that the climate predictions from the IPCC have been way too conservative. And now we see scientists, like Field, from the IPCC coming out and warning us that climate change is accelerating much faster than their conservative climate models have predicted.
Field said "the actual trajectory of climate change is more serious" than any of the climate predictions in the IPCC's fourth assessment report called "Climate Change 2007."
The greenhouse gas emissions from the increased burning of coal in developing countries, such as China and India, have according to Field â€œlargely outpaced the estimates used in the U.N. panel's 2007 reportsâ€. But what is even more worrying is Field is warning that the planets feedback loops have started to kick in:
Unexpectedly large amounts of carbon dioxide
are being released into the atmosphere as the result of â€œfeedback loopsâ€ that are speeding up natural processes. Prominent among these, evidence indicates, is a cycle in which higher temperatures are beginning to melt the arctic permafrost, which could release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, said several scientists on a panel at the meeting.
The permafrost holds 1 trillion tons of carbon, and as much as 10 percent of that could be released this century, Field said. Melting permafrost also releases methane, which is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
â€œItâ€™s a vicious cycle of feedback where warming causes the release of carbon from permafrost, which causes more warming, which causes more release from permafrost,â€ Field said.â€
And this is the real killer. Because if these natural feedback loops starts pumping out massive amounts of CO2 on â€œautopilotâ€ it doesnâ€™t really matter how much greenhouse gas emissions we reduce. Because then we would have passed the threshold of no return and head towards a catastrophically 6 degrees increase in global temperatures.
The next climate report from the IPCC, the Fifth Assessment Report, may actually be based on up-to-date predictions and findings and will also contain policy proposals:
The 2007 fourth assessment presented at a â€œvery conservative range of climate outcomesâ€ but the next report will â€œinclude futures with a lot more warming,â€ Field said.
â€œWe now know that, without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought.â€