Article

Greater future global warming inferred from Earth’s recent energy budget

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Abstract

Climate models provide the principal means of projecting global warming over the remainder of the twenty-first century but modelled estimates of warming vary by a factor of approximately two even under the same radiative forcing scenarios. Across-model relationships between currently observable attributes of the climate system and the simulated magnitude of future warming have the potential to inform projections. Here we show that robust across-model relationships exist between the global spatial patterns of several fundamental attributes of Earth’s top-of-atmosphere energy budget and the magnitude of projected global warming. When we constrain the model projections with observations, we obtain greater means and narrower ranges of future global warming across the major radiative forcing scenarios, in general. In particular, we find that the observationally informed warming projection for the end of the twenty-first century for the steepest radiative forcing scenario is about 15 per cent warmer (+0.5 degrees Celsius) with a reduction of about a third in the two-standard-deviation spread (−1.2 degrees Celsius) relative to the raw model projections reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our results suggest that achieving any given global temperature stabilization target will require steeper greenhouse gas emissions reductions than previously calculated.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Z. Hausfather for discussions. This study was supported by the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research and the Carnegie Institution for Science endowment. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for the Coupled Modelled Intercomparison Project (CMIP), and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, California, USA.

    • Patrick T. Brown
    •  & Ken Caldeira

Authors

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Contributions

K.C. conceived the study. P.T.B. performed the analysis and wrote an initial draft of the manuscript. Both authors contributed to interpretation of results and refinement of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patrick T. Brown.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks T. L’Ecuyer and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Table 1

    This Supplementary Table provides details on the climate models used and which were included in which analyses.

Zip files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Data

    This zipped file contains the built-in MATLABTM function used to carry out PLS regression (plsregress.m), the preprocessed data saved as a MATLABTM saveset file (Preproc_Brown_PLS_delta_GMSAT.mat) and the MATLABTM code that carries out the main statistical procedure used in the study (Brown_Caldeira_PLS_delta_GMSAT.m).

Videos

  1. 1.

    Procedure Summary

    Video animation summarizing the statistical procedure used to create the constrained projections.