Chapter 7: The Earth’s Energy Budget, Climate Feedbacks, and Climate Sensitivity

Since AR5, the accumulation of energy in the Earth system, quantified by changes in the global energy inventory for all components of the climate system, has become established as a robust measure of the rate of global climate change on interannual-to-decadal time scales. Compared to changes in global surface air temperature (GSAT), the global energy inventory exhibits less variability, which can mask underlying climate trends. Compared to AR5, there is increased confidence in the quantification of changes in the global energy inventory due to improved observational records and closure of the sea level budget. Energy will continue to accumulate in the Earth system until at least the end of the 21st century, even under strong mitigation scenarios, and will primarily be observed through ocean warming and associated with continued sea level rise through thermal expansion (high confidence). {7.2.2, Box 7.2, Table 7.1, Cross-Chapter Box 9.1, Table 9.5, 9.2.2, 9.6.3}

The global energy inventory increased by 282 [177 to 387] Zettajoules (ZJ; 1021Joules) for the period 1971-2006 and 152 [100 to 205] ZJ for the period 2006-2018. This corresponds to an Earth energy imbalance of 0.50 [0.32 to 0.69] W m-2 for the period 1971-2006, increasing to 0.79 [0.52 to 1.06] W m-2 for the period 2006-2018, expressed per unit area of Earth’s surface. Ocean heat uptake is by far the largest contribution and accounts for 91% of the total energy change. Compared to AR5, the contribution from land heating has been revised upwards from about 3% to about 5%. Melting of ice and warming of the atmosphere account for about 3% and 1% of the total change respectively. More comprehensive analysis of inventory components and cross-validation of global heating rates from satellite and in situ observations lead to a strengthened assessment relative to AR5 (high confidence). {Box 7.2, 7.2.2, Table 7.1, 7.5.2.3}

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Improved quantification of effective radiative forcing, the climate system radiative response, and the observed energy increase in the Earth system for the period 1971-2018 demonstrate improved closure of the global energy budget compared to AR5. Combining the likely range of ERF with the central estimate of radiative response gives an expected energy gain of 340 [47 to 662] ZJ. Combining the likely range of climate response with the central estimate of ERF gives an expected energy gain of 340 [147 to 527] ZJ. Both estimates are consistent with an independent observation-based assessment of the global energy increase of 284 [96 to 471] ZJ, (very likely range) expressed relative to the estimated 1850-1900 Earth energy imbalance (high confidence). {7.2.2, Box 7.2, 7.3.5, 7.5.2}

Since AR5, additional evidence for a widespread decline (or dimming) in solar radiation reaching the surface is found in the observational records between the 1950s and 1980s, with a partial recovery (brightening) at many observational sites thereafter (high confidence). These trends are neither a local phenomenon nor a measurement artefact (high confidence). Multi-decadal variation in anthropogenic aerosol emissions are thought to be a major contributor (medium confidence), but multi-decadal variability in cloudiness may also have played a role. The downward and upward thermal radiation at the surface has increased in recent decades, in line with increased greenhouse gas concentrations and associated surface and atmospheric warming and moistening (medium confidence). {7.2.2}

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