Latest IPCC assessment report includes contributions from multiple federal labs

Latest IPCC assessment report includes contributions from multiple federal labs

August 11, 2021

Climate experts from multiple federal laboratories contributed to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, which made headlines when it was released on August 9. Contributors included representatives from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Joint Global Change Research Institute.

Scientists are observing changes in the Earth’s climate in every region and across the whole climate system, according to the IPCC report. Many of the observed climate changes are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion — such as continued sea-level rise — are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.

However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit further climate change. While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize, according to the IPCC Working Group I report, “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis,” which was approved by 195 IPCC member governments through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting July 26.

The report is the first installment of the three-part IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed in 2022. Reports from Working Groups II and III will focus on adaptation and mitigation, respectively.

“Under future scenarios in which we emit more carbon, those carbon sinks become less effective, in the sense that a smaller fraction of the emitted carbon is absorbed and therefore more stays in the atmosphere,” said Berkeley Lab scientist Charles Koven, a lead author for the report’s chapter on global carbon cycles. “It underscores the urgency to start acting soon. The earlier we’re able to get to net-zero carbon emissions the better. We can still keep climate change below the goals set by the Paris Agreement, but only if we act very, very fast.”

Other Berkeley Lab contributors to the Working Group I report were Michael Wehner, a lead author of the chapter on extreme weather, and William Collins and Chaincy Kuo, a lead author and chapter scientist, respectively, of the chapter on short-lived climate forcers, so-called because they stay in the atmosphere for only a few days or weeks to a few years, compared to carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, which can persist for 100 years or more.

“The report will serve as valuable input to the UNFCCC meeting in Glasgow, as well as to governments around the world who are actively formulating plans for mitigating their contributions to anthropogenic climate change,” said Collins, head of Berkeley Lab’s Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division.

LLNL scientists Paul Durack, Celine Bonfils, Peter Gleckler, Ben Santer and Mark Zelinka contributed to this report. This contribution continues a four-decade legacy of involvement in the IPCC by LLNL's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis & Intercomparison, with scientific leadership provided through all five previous IPCC assessments dating back to the initial report, published in 1990.

“Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and tropical cyclones, and their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since AR5 [the last IPCC assessment report, published in 2014],” said Durack, who was the IPCC Working Group I Lead Author of “Human influence on the Climate System” (Chapter Three).

The latest report used climate models developed by NOAA and run using NOAA's long-term observations of the ocean and climate systems, NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad noted in a statement.

"NOAA will use the new insights from this IPCC report to inform the work it does with communities to prepare for, respond to, and adapt to climate change," Spinrad said. "In fact, NOAA is already working directly with communities to increase their resilience to climate impacts, as we have with the recently released 2021 Climate Action Plan for the Chicago Region, which serves as a model for regional climate action. NOAA stands ready to assist communities with similar plans. Local planners, emergency managers, and policy makers have a new and urgent opportunity to apply these latest findings."

The report predicted that coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion, according to an IPCC press release. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.

These findings were based on a sea level projection tool from NASA that is now accessible to the public, according to NASA.

Pull up the tool’s layers of maps, click anywhere on the global ocean and coastlines, and pick any decade between 2020 and 2150: The tool, hosted on NASA’s Sea Level Portal, will deliver a detailed report for the location based on the projections in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.

“What’s new here is a tool that we are providing to the community, to distribute the latest climate knowledge produced by the IPCC and NASA scientists in an accessible and user-friendly way while maintaining scientific integrity,” said Nadya Vinogradova Shiffer, program scientist and manager at NASA, who directs NASA’s Sea Level Change science team. “As the first data-delivery partnership between the IPCC and a federal agency, NASA’s new sea level projection tool will help pave the way for future activities that facilitate knowledge sharing, open science, and easy access to the state-of-the-art climate science. This information is critical to increase climate resilience of nations with large coastal populations, infrastructure, and economies that will be impacted by sea level rise.”

Read the IPCC press release:

Read the report:

Read more from federal contributors:

Berkeley Lab: