5 devastating impacts of climate change

impacts of climate change

We know that climate change is causing concerning changes across the globe. This year alone there have been significant changes to global temperatures and seasons, with heat breaking historic records across continents. The severe heat and lack of rain has led to ongoing droughts and wildfires across Europe and Asia and flooding in other areas of the world.

But the impacts of climate change extend far beyond changes to the weather. This blog will explain what other impacts we can expect to see as a result of climate change, as the global temperature continues to rise.

Drastic changes in weather

We have already started seeing changes to global weather. So far in 2022 there has been heatwaves, flooding, droughts, and giant hailstorms. In the future, we will likely see heat continue to rise, leading to increased drought, and more frequent storms.

The planet is now around 1.1°C warmer than it was in the 1800s. The Paris Agreement set a limit for the global temperature of +1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels, which we are unfortunately on track to surpass. The 1.5°C limit was set as the maximum point before we begin to experience the worst effects of climate change. As the globe warms, countries naturally will too. While not all countries will warm at a rate in line with the global temperature, there will be parts of the planet that see drastic changes in coming years.

Along with the changing temperatures we will see an increase in storms and natural disasters. As the global surface temperature warms, droughts and storms are more likely to occur. The water vapour evaporated into the atmosphere builds up to create stronger storms, and additional heat in the atmosphere and oceans can lead to increased wind speeds and tropical storms with more catastrophic consequences. Extreme weather and events themselves cause numerous issues, which you can read about later in this blog. One example; charity organisation, Shelter, say that there are more than 113 people already homeless due to natural disasters.

graph - number of loss events - impacts of climate change

Credit: Met Office

As the graph above demonstrates, extreme weather events have almost tripled since 1980. While geophysical occurrences have the least increase, meteorological and hydrological events have grown substantially. This chart doesn’t even include the 2020 – 2022 data, which includes 3 of the top 10 hottest days on record in the UK and global temperature reports.

Loss of species

Biodiversity is crucial for our planet. While it’s nice to share our planet with an array of wonderful and interesting species, research shows that diverse environments can actually mitigate over 30% of carbon emissions.  

Unfortunately, in the last 50 years world biodiversity has declined substantially. We are at risk of losing more than 25,000 species (around 30% known to us). Studies show that climate change will be responsible for 8% of this loss.

The WWF suggest that changes are already happening across the planet as species are trying to adjust to changing seasons, human disruption, and increased temperatures. It goes on to say that many species, both animals and plants, will need to move more than 1,000 meters per year to stay within their required climate zones. Sadly, a lot of species will not be able to relocate fast enough.

Rising sea levels

Rising sea levels have been an ongoing concern for scientists in recent decades. Greenhouse gasses, from carbon emissions and other human activities, directly contribute to global warming. Our oceans help us mitigate global warming by absorbing heat – in fact studies show the sea has absorbed more than 90% of heat from greenhouse gases. But sea levels rise for two reasons – melting ice or glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms. As water heat up, it expands, meaning that warmer water needs more space. Research shows that around 50% of the sea-level rise in recent decades is due to water getting warmer.

NASA data shows that sea levels have risen over 100mm (almost 4 inches) in just under 30 years. Experts expect levels to keep rising, especially with signs that the ice shelf in East Antarctica is unstable.

graph - satellite data for sea levels - NASA - impacts of climate change

Credit: NASA

Rising sea levels can be destructive. Erosion, flooding, land contamination, and lost habitats are only a few of the issues we face. In order to combat the rising sea levels, many cities are implementing measures to protect coastlines.

Reduced food sources

Climate change is already causing many issues for agriculture across the globe. But the expectation is that global warming will impact all four pillars of food security – availability, access, utilisation, and stability. A primary concern is that an increased global temperature will lead to further issues with food security.

Previous studies around maize growth has shown that there is a direct correlation between heat and crop growth. For every degree past 30°C the yield of crops was reduced by over 1%. As well as heat damage, precipitation levels can cause havoc with crop growth. Drought can destroy crops but if there is too much water, there can be flooding, leading to crop damage and even spreading of diseases.

On top of the harvest impacts, there is a vast concern around the economic impact. Food prices will rise as food insecurity increases. With less available and rising costs, families may face difficulties buying food.

It’s worth considering that different areas will experience these impacts in different ways. Currently, the areas worst affected by climate change include Chad, Haiti, and Kenya, even though they are some of the lowest contributors to global warming.

Increased poverty

As mentioned above, climate change is affecting the poorest people first. For those already living in poverty, it’s an ongoing challenge to maintain crops, home and health.

Action Aid believe that by 2030, climate change could result in more than 120 million additional people living in poverty.

Even though richer countries are the biggest contributors to climate change, they have the infrastructure in place, for the most part, to retain a level of protection. However, for the countries lacking foundations, livelihoods are already being dramatically impacted.

As mentioned in this blog, agriculture is becoming a huge concern across the globe. But those with reduced resources are experiencing this on a greater scale. A vast majority of people in poorer countries rely on the income from their harvests to live, but with worsening growing conditions, this will becoming a detrimental issue, on top of the reduced food stability. Action Aid state that over 1.3 billion people, primarily in developing countries, are trapped on degrading agricultural land.

Credit: Action Aid

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