Are we already seeing the impact of climate change?

Blog title - Are we already seeing the impact of climate change? Orange circle with the tite and 'climate change' written in bold grey and white text.

Climate change is happening. As the global temperature increases, scientists have predicted a variety of implications across the globe. But are we already seeing the impacts of climate change?

Climate change is a global issue. As the world warms, the impacts will affect people everywhere, from the Arctic to Antarctica and every place in between. And it’s not just about temperature, climate change also impacts rainfall patterns, ocean acidification and more.

The impacts of climate change will not be felt evenly across the world. Poorer countries are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they have fewer resources to adapt to its effects. And while some parts of the world may benefit from warmer temperatures or longer growing seasons as a result of climate change, many others will suffer from drought-induced food shortages and other disasters caused by rising sea levels or extreme weather events like hurricanes or floods.

Here are some of the largest impacts we are already beginning to see that many scientists are attributing to global warming and climate change.

Agriculture and food availability

A major impact we can expect to see as the world warms is more frequent droughts and floods, as well as heat waves. Climate change is already affecting agriculture and food security in developing countries. Changes and unpredictability in precipitation will have a devastating effect on crop yields worldwide, especially in developing countries where farmers rely heavily on rainfall rather than irrigation systems to grow crops such as maize or wheat.

We have seen a substantial increase in warming in the past few years but even in previous decades there have been declines in food yields. One scientific study (1) found that between 1980 and 2015, wheat and maize yields reduced by around 40% worldwide. The study also anticipated that for every additional degree Celsius rise in temperature, we would lose an additional 6% in global wheat yields.

Biodiversity and the impact on wildlife

The climate is changing, and species are being driven to extinction. The constant changes in weather and climate patterns means that the species we share the planet with are having to quickly adjust or move to find a suitable habitat.

WWF believe that the fate of many species will rely on their ability to migrate to suitable areas that will meet their physical, biological, and climatic needs as the climate changes. WWF scientists have estimated that most species (including animals and plants) will have to move more than 1,000 meters per year to stay in suitable climate zones; many will not be able to redistribute this quickly.

According to the IUCN, in 2021 climate change was already affecting at least 10,967 species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, increasing their likelihood of extinction (2).

Homes and livelihoods

As the global temperature rises, so does sea level. Because of this change in water levels, many coastal areas are at risk for flooding during storms or high tides (which are happening more frequently). This can cause severe damage to property and infrastructure like roads and bridges and even destroy entire cities if they’re not properly protected against rising waters. Many governments are having to significantly invest in coastal protection as the UN reports that the race of global sea level rise has now doubled.

In some areas, the increased droughts and subsequent wildfires have devastated entire towns. The news has been laden with updates around the ongoing Canadian wildfires that have been raging across the country for the last two months. The area burned in Canada alone this year is 11 times the average of previous years (over the same time period). But these wildfires are not exclusive to Canada, so far this year there have been serious wildlife’s in the UK, the US, Chile, and Asia.

Health and wellbeing

In addition to the environmental changes listed, climate change is also affecting our health in a variety of ways. It affects air quality by increasing smog and pollen counts, it makes extreme weather events more likely, it increases allergies, it increases risk for diseases, and more generally speaking it makes people feel less healthy overall.

The evidence for climate change is clear and overwhelming. We have seen the impacts on our planet and its people, from extreme weather events to food insecurity and species extinction. The question now is – what we can do about it?

There are many things we can do as individuals, from turning off lights when not needed or buying locally sourced food items, but our biggest impact will come from working together at a global level to find solutions that benefit everyone while also protecting our environment.