IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate: Framing and Context of the Report (Chapter 1)

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This special report assesses new knowledge since the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5) and the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC (SR15) on how the ocean and cryosphere have and are expected to change with ongoing global warming, the risks and opportunities these changes bring to ecosystems and people, and mitigation, adaptation and governance options for reducing future risks. Chapter 1 provides context on the importance of the ocean and cryosphere, and the framework for the assessments in subsequent chapters of the report.

All people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean and cryosphere. The fundamental roles of the ocean and cryosphere in the Earth system include the uptake and redistribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and heat by the ocean, as well as their crucial involvement of in the hydrological cycle. The cryosphere also amplifies climate changes through snow, ice and permafrost feedbacks. Services provided to people by the ocean and/or cryosphere include food and freshwater, renewable energy, health and wellbeing, cultural values, trade and transport. {1.1, 1.2, 1.5}

Sustainable development is at risk from emerging and intensifying ocean and cryosphere changes. Ocean and cryosphere changes interact with each of theUnited Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Progress on climate action (SDG 13) would reduce risks to aspects of sustainable development that are fundamentally linked to the ocean and cryosphere and the services they provide (high confidence1). Progress on achieving the SDGs can contribute to reducing the exposure or vulnerabilities of people and communities to the risks of ocean and cryosphere change (medium confidence). {1.1}

Communities living in close connection with polar, mountain, and coastal environments are particularly exposed to the current and future hazardsof ocean and cryosphere change.Coasts are home to approximately 28% of the global population, including around 11% living on land less than 10 m above sea level. Almost 10% of the global population lives in the Arctic or high mountain regions. People in these regions face the greatest exposure to ocean and cryosphere change, and poor and marginalised people here are particularly vulnerable to climate-related hazards and risks (veryhigh confidence). The adaptive capacity of people, communities and nations is shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, technological, institutional, geographical and demographic factors.{1.1, 1.5, 1.6, Cross-Chapter Box 2 in Chapter 1}

Ocean and cryosphere changes are pervasive and observed from high mountains, to the polar regions, to coasts, and into the deep ocean. AR5 assessed that the ocean is warming (0 to 700 m: virtually certain2;700 to 2,000 m: likely), sea level is rising (high confidence), and ocean acidity is increasing (high confidence). Most glaciers are shrinking (high confidence), the Greenlandand Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass (high confidence), sea ice extent in the Arctic is decreasing (very high confidence), Northern Hemisphere snow cover is decreasing (very high confidence), and permafrost temperatures are increasing (high confidence). Improvements since AR5 in observation systems, techniques, reconstructions and model developments, have advanced scientific characterisation and understanding of ocean and cryosphere change, including in previously identified areas of concern such as ice sheets and Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). {1.1, 1.4, 1.8.1}

Evidence and understanding of the human causes of climate warming, and of associated ocean and cryosphere changes, has increased over the past 30 years of IPCC assessments (very high confidence). Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0ºC of global warming above pre-industrial levels (SR15). Areas of concern in earlier IPCC reports, such as the expected acceleration of sea level rise, are now observed (high confidence). Evidence for expected slow-down of AMOC is emerging in sustained observations and from long-term palaeoclimate reconstructions (medium confidence), and may be related with anthropogenic forcing according to model simulations, although this remains to be properly attributed. Significant sea level rise contributions from Antarctic ice sheet mass loss (very high confidence), which earlier reports did not expect to manifest this century, are already being observed. {1.1, 1.4}

Ocean and cryosphere changes and risks by the end-of-century (2081–2100) will be larger under high greenhouse gas emission scenarios, compared with low emission scenarios (very high confidence). Projections and assessments of future climate, ocean and cryosphere changes in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) are commonly based on coordinated climate model experiments from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) forced with Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) of future radiative forcing. Current emissions continue to grow at a rate consistent with a high emission future without effective climate change mitigation policies (referred to as RCP8.5). The SROCC assessment contrasts this high greenhouse gas emission future with a low greenhouse gas emission, high mitigation future (referred to as RCP2.6) that gives a two in three chance of limiting warming by the end of the century to less than 2oC above pre-industrial. {Cross-Chapter Box 1 in Chapter 1}

  • Publisher: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
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