Thick orange-brown smoke blocks half a blue sky, with conifers in the foreground
A few grey fish swim over grey coral with white spikes
Desert sand half covers a village of small flat-roofed houses with scattered green trees
large areas of still water behind riverside buildings
Some climate change effects, clockwise from top left: Wildfire caused by heat and dryness, bleached coral caused by ocean acidification and heating, coastal flooding caused by storms and sea level rise, and environmental migration caused by desertification
The primary causes[1] and the wide-ranging impacts (effects)[2][3] of global warming and resulting climate change. Some effects constitute feedback mechanisms that intensify climate change and move it toward climate tipping points.[4]

The effects of climate change span the impacts on physical environment, ecosystems and human societies due to ongoing human-caused climate change. The future impact of climate change depends on how much nations reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.[5][6]

Physical changes include extreme weather, glacier retreat, sea level rise, declines in Arctic sea ice, and changes in the timing of seasonal events (such as earlier spring flowering). Since 1970, the ocean has absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat in the climate system. Even if global surface temperature is stabilized, sea levels will continue to rise and the ocean will continue to absorb excess heat from the atmosphere for many centuries.[7] The uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is leading to ocean acidification.[7]

Climate change has degraded land by raising temperatures, drying soils and increasing wildfire risk.[8] Recent warming has strongly affected natural biological systems.[9] Species worldwide are migrating poleward to colder areas. On land, species move to higher elevations, whereas marine species find colder water at greater depths.[10] Between 1% and 50% of species on land were assessed to be at substantially higher risk of extinction due to climate change.[11] Coral reefs and shellfish are vulnerable to the combined threat of ocean warming and acidification.[12]

Food security and access to fresh water are at risk due to rising temperatures. Climate change has profound impacts on human health, directly via heat stress and indirectly via the spread of infectious diseases. Economic inequality is exacerbated by climate change. This can result in environmental migration, especially in developing countries where people are directly dependent on land for food, feed, fibre, timber and energy.[13][14]

Observed and future warming

Further information: Instrumental temperature record

Global surface temperature reconstruction over the last millennia using proxy data from tree rings, corals, and ice cores in blue.[15] Observational data is after 1880.
Average surface air temperatures from 2011 to 2021 compared to the 1956–1976 average. Source: NASA

Global warming affects all elements of Earth's climate system.[16] Global surface temperatures have risen by 1 °C and are expected to rise further in the future.[16][17] Night-time temperatures have increased faster than daytime temperatures.[18] The impact on the environment, wildlife, society and humanity depends on how much more the Earth warms.[19]

One of the methods scientists use to predict the effects of human-caused climate change, is to investigate past natural changes in climate.[20] To assess changes in Earth's past climate scientists have studied tree rings, ice cores, corals, and ocean and lake sediments.[21] These show that recent warming has surpassed anything in the last 2,000 years.[22] By the end of the 21st century, temperatures may increase to a level not experienced since the mid-Pliocene, around 3 million years ago.[23] At that time, mean global temperatures were about 2–4 °C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, and the global mean sea level was up to 25 meters higher than it is today.[24]

Projected temperature and sea-level rise relative to the 2000–2019 mean for RCP climate change scenarios up to 2500.[25][26]

How much the world warms depends on what humans do or not to limit GHG emissions, and how sensitive the climate is to greenhouse gases.[27] Scientists are pretty sure that with double the amount of GHG in the atmosphere the world would warm by 2.5 °C to 4 °C; but how much more humans will emit is less certain.[28] The projected magnitude of warming by 2100 is closely related to the level of cumulative emissions over the 21st century (total emissions between 2000 and 2100). The higher the cumulative emissions over this time period, the greater the level of warming is projected to occur.[29]

Even if emissions were drastically reduced overnight the warming process would continue, because CO2 takes hundreds of years to be naturally returned to soil and sediments, and global temperatures will remain close to their highest level for at least the next 1,000 years.[30][31]

Mitigation policies currently in place will result in about 2.7 °C (2.0–3.6 °C, depending on how sensitive the climate is to greenhouse gas emissions) warming above pre-industrial levels. If all unconditional pledges and targets made by governments are achieved the temperature will rise by around 2.4 °C. If additionally all the countries that adopted or are considering to adopt net-zero targets will achieve it the temperature will rise by a median of 1.8 °C. There is a substantial gap between national plans and commitments and actions so far taken by governments around the world.[32]

Weather

See also: Extreme weather

Increasing temperature is likely to increase precipitation,[33][34] but the effects on storms are less clear. Extratropical storms partly depend on the temperature gradient, which is predicted to weaken in the northern hemisphere as the polar region warms more than the rest of the hemisphere.[35]

Global warming leads to an increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, cyclones, blizzards and rainstorms.[36] Such events will continue to occur more often and with greater intensity.[37] Some individual extreme weather events are caused by climate change.[38]

Precipitation

Global warming is expected to be accompanied by a reduction in rainfall in the subtropics and an increase in precipitation in subpolar latitudes and some equatorial regions. In other words, regions which are dry at present will generally become even drier, while regions that are currently wet will generally become even wetter. This projection does not apply to every locale, and in some cases can be modified by local conditions. Drying is projected to be strongest near the poleward margins of the subtropics (for example, South Africa, southern Australia, the Mediterranean, and the south-western U.S.), a pattern that can be described as a poleward expansion of these semi-arid zones.[39] In the case of precipitation, the rising temperatures will intensify the Earth’s water cycle, increasing evaporation. Increased evaporation will result in more frequent and intense downpours and cause extended droughts in certain regions. As a result, storm-affected areas are likely to experience increases in precipitation and an increased risk of flooding. In contrast, areas far away from storm tracks are likely to experience less precipitation and an increased risk of drought.

This large-scale pattern of change is a robust feature present in nearly all of the simulations conducted by the world's climate modeling groups for the 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and is also evident in observed 20th century precipitation trends.[39] Changes in regional climate are expected to include greater warming over land, with most warming at high northern latitudes, and least warming over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.[40] Future changes in precipitation are expected to follow existing trends, with reduced precipitation over subtropical land areas, and increased precipitation at subpolar latitudes and some equatorial regions.[41]

Higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation and surface drying. As the air warms, its water-holding capacity also increases, particularly over the oceans. In general the air can hold about 7% more moisture for every 1 °C of temperature rise.[27] In the tropics, there's more than a 10% increase in precipitation for a 1 °C increase in temperature.[42] Changes have already been observed in the amount, intensity, frequency, and type of precipitation. Widespread increases in heavy precipitation have occurred even in places where total rain amounts have decreased.[43]

Projections of changes in precipitation show increases in the global average, with substantial shifts in location and pattern of rainfall.[27] Although increased rainfall will not occur everywhere, models suggest most of the world will have a 16–24% increase in heavy precipitation intensity by 2100.[44] Warming has increased contrasts in rainfall amounts between wet and dry seasons.[45]

Heat waves and temperature extremes

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (2021) projects large increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, for increasing degrees of global warming.[46]

It was estimated in 2013 that global warming had increased the probability of local record-breaking monthly temperatures worldwide by a factor of 5.[47] This was compared to a baseline climate in which no global warming had occurred. Using a medium global warming scenario, they project that by 2040, the number of monthly heat records globally could be more than 12 times greater than that of a scenario with no long-term warming.

Global warming boosts the probability of extreme weather events such as heat waves[48][49] where the daily maximum temperature exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5 °C (9 °F) for more than five consecutive days.[50] In the last 30–40 years, heat waves with high humidity have become more frequent and severe. Extremely hot nights have doubled in frequency. The area in which extremely hot summers are observed has increased 50–100 fold. Heat waves with high humidity pose a big risk to human health while heat waves with low humidity lead to dry conditions that increase wildfires. The mortality from extreme heat is larger than the mortality from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes together.[51]

Future climate change will include more very hot days and fewer very cold days.[52] The frequency, length and intensity of heat waves will very likely increase over most land areas.[52] Higher growth in anthropogenic GHG emissions would cause more frequent and severe temperature extremes.[53] Globally, cold waves have decreased in frequency.[54] There is some evidence climate change leads to a weakening of the polar vortex, which would make the jet stream more wavy.[55] This would lead to outbursts of very cold winter weather across parts of Eurasia[56] and North America.[57][58][59]

refer to caption
Frequency of occurrence (vertical axis) of local June–July–August temperature anomalies (relative to 1951–1980 mean) for Northern Hemisphere land in units of local standard deviation (horizontal axis).[60] According to Hansen et al. (2012),[60] the distribution of anomalies has shifted to the right as a consequence of global warming, meaning that unusually hot summers have become more common. This is analogous to the rolling of a die: cool summers now cover only half of one side of a six-sided die, white covers one side, red covers four sides, and an extremely hot (red-brown) anomaly covers half of one side.[60]

Tropical cyclones and storms

See also: Tropical cyclone § Climate change, and Tropical cyclones and climate change

Global warming not only causes changes in tropical cyclones, it may also make some impacts from them worse via sea level rise. The intensity of tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons, etc.) is projected to increase globally, with the proportion of Category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones increasing. Furthermore, the rate of rainfall is projected to increase, but trends in the future frequency on a global scale are not yet clear.[61][62] Changes in tropical cyclones vary by region.[61]

Increases in temperature are expected to produce more intense convection over land and a higher frequency of the most severe storms.[63]

Oceans

Oceans have taken up over 90% of the excess heat accumulated on Earth due to global warming, reducing the amount of heat building up in the atmosphere.[64]: 4 
Refer to caption and adjacent text
Time series of seasonal (red dots) and annual average (black line) global upper ocean heat content for the 0-700m layer between 1955 and 2008. The graph shows that ocean heat content has increased over this time period.[65]

Main article: Effects of climate change on oceans

The main physical effects of global warming on the world ocean are sea level rise, ocean warming, ocean acidification, ocean deoxygenation, an increase in marine heatwaves,[66] and changes to ocean currents including a possible slowdown or shutdown of thermohaline circulation. These physical changes disturb marine ecosystems, which can cause both extinctions and population explosions, change the distribution of species,[66] and impact coastal fishing and tourism.

Sea levels are rising because warmer air temperatures cause both melting of ice on land (glaciers) and ocean warming that causes thermal expansion (warmer water takes up more volume).[67] Tide gauge measurements show that the current rise began around 1900; from that year to 2017, the globally averaged sea level rose by 16–21 cm (6+128+12 in).[68] More precise data gathered from satellite radar measurements reveal an accelerating rise of 7.5 cm (3 in) from 1993 to 2017,[69]: 1554  for an average rate of 31 mm (1+14 in) per decade. Between 1993 and 2018, the thermal expansion of water contributed 42% to sea level rise; melting of temperate glaciers, 21%; Greenland, 15%; and Antarctica, 8%.[69]: 1576  Climate scientists expect the rate to further accelerate during the 21st century, with the latest measurements saying the sea levels are currently rising by 3.6 mm per year.[70]: 62  [71]

As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, the equillibrium of gas exchange is disturbed, causing the ocean to absorb and retain large amounts of CO
2
. This reduces the amount of CO
2
in the atmosphere that would be contributing to the greenhouse effect, but the dissolved carbon dioxide is an acid, lowering the pH of the ocean. As the temperature of the ocean increases, they become less able to absorb excess CO
2
,[72] which blunts both acidification and the ability of the ocean to mitigate atmospheric greenhouse gas buildup.

Warming of the ocean surface due to higher air temperatures leads to increased water temperature stratification.[73] The decline in mixing of the ocean layers piles up warm water near the surface while reducing cold, deep water circulation. The reduced up and down mixing reduces the ability of the ocean to absorb heat, directing a larger fraction of future warming toward the atmosphere and land. Energy available for tropical cyclones and other storms is expected to increase, nutrients for fish in the upper ocean layers are set to decrease, as well as the capacity of the oceans to store carbon.[74]

Warmer water cannot contain as much oxygen as cold water, changing the gas exchange equilibrium to reduce ocean oxygen levels and increase oxygen in the atmosphere. Increased thermal stratification may lead to increases in respiration rates of organic matter, further decreasing water oxygen content. The ocean has already lost oxygen, throughout the entire water column and oxygen minimum zones are expanding worldwide.[73] This has adverse consequences for ocean life.[75][76]

A part of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2016 after a coral bleaching event

Other effects on physical environment

Climate change causes a variety of physical impacts on the climate system. The physical impacts of climate change foremost include globally rising temperatures of the lower atmosphere, the land, and oceans. Temperature rise is not uniform, with land masses and the Arctic region warming faster than the global average. Effects on weather encompass increased heavy precipitation, reduced amounts of cold days, increase in heat waves and various effects on tropical cyclones. The enhanced greenhouse effect causes the higher part of the atmosphere, the stratosphere, to cool. Geochemical cycles are also impacted, with absorption of CO2 causing ocean acidification, and rising ocean water decreasing the ocean's ability to absorb further carbon dioxide. Annual snow cover has decreased, sea ice is declining and widespread melting of glaciers is underway. Retreat of ice mass may impact various geological processes as well, such as volcanism and earthquakes. Increased temperatures and other human interference with the climate system can lead to tipping points to be crossed such as the collapse of the thermohaline circulation or the Amazon rainforest. Some of these physical impacts also affect social and economic systems.

Atmosphere

The lower and middle atmosphere are heating due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Increased greenhouse gases cause the higher parts of the atmosphere, the stratosphere to cool. This has been observed by a set of satellites since 1979 (the Microwave sounding unit) and radiosonde data. Satellites can not measure each height of the atmosphere separately, but instead measure a set of bands that slightly overlap. The overlap between the cooling stratosphere in the measurements of tropospheric warming may cause the latter to be underestimated slightly.[77] The heated atmosphere contains more water vapour, which is itselfs also a greenhouse gas and acts as an self-reinforcing feedback.[78]

Biogeochemical cycles

See also: climate change feedback

Climate change can have an effect on the carbon cycle in an interactive "feedback" process . A feedback exists where an initial process triggers changes in a second process that in turn influences the initial process. A positive feedback intensifies the original process, and a negative feedback reduces it (IPCC, 2007d:78).[79] Models suggest that the interaction of the climate system and the carbon cycle is one where the feedback effect is positive (Schneider et al., 2007:792).[80]

Ice and snow

See also: Retreat of glaciers since 1850, Arctic sea ice decline, Deglaciation, and Cryosphere

Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice between 1994 and 2017, with melting grounded ice (ice sheets and glaciers) raising the global sea level by 34.6 ±3.1 mm.[81] The rate of ice loss has risen by 57% since the 1990s−from 0.8 to 1.2 trillion tonnes per year.[81]

The cryosphere is made up of those parts of the planet which are so cold, they are frozen and covered by snow or ice. This includes ice and snow on land such as the continental ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as glaciers and areas of snow and permafrost; and ice found on water including frozen parts of the ocean, such as the waters surrounding Antarctica and the Arctic.[82] The cryosphere, especially the polar regions, is extremely sensitive to changes in global climate.[83]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. According to the report climate change caused a massive melting of glaciers, ice sheets, snow and permafrost with generally negative effects on ecosystems and humans. Indigenous knowledge helped to adapt to those effects.[66]

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has also been a widespread retreat of alpine glaciers,[84] and snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere.[85] The sensitivity to warming of the "1981–2010 Northern hemisphere snow cover extent" is about minus 1.9 million km2 per degrees Celsius throughout the snow season.[86] During the 21st century, glaciers and snow cover are projected to continue their retreat in almost all regions.[87] The melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will continue to contribute to sea level rise over long time-scales.[88]

Northern Hemisphere average annual snow cover has declined in recent decades. This pattern is consistent with warmer global temperatures. Some of the largest declines have been observed in the spring and summer months.[65]

Sea ice

Main article: Arctic sea ice decline

Sea ice reflects 50% to 70% of the incoming solar radiation, while 6% of the incoming solar energy is reflected by the ocean. With less solar energy, the sea ice absorbs and holds the surface colder, which can be a positive feedback toward climate change.[89]

As the climate warms, snow cover and sea ice extent decrease. Large-scale measurements of sea-ice have only been possible since the satellite era. The age of the sea ice is an important feature of the state of the sea ice cover.[90] Sea ice in the Antarctic has hardly changed since those measurements began. Though extending the Antarctic sea-ice record back in time is more difficult due to the lack of direct observations in this part of the world.[91]

Arctic sea ice began to decline at the beginning of the twentieth century but the rate is accelerating. Since 1979, satellite records indicate the decline in summer sea ice coverage has been about 13% per decade.[92][93] The thickness of sea ice has also decreased by 66% or 2.0 m over the last six decades with a shift from permanent ice to largely seasonal ice cover.[94] Arctic sea ice area will likely drop below 1 million km2 in at least some Septembers before 2050.[95] While ice-free summers are expected to be rare at 1.5 °C degrees of warming, they are set to occur at least once every decade at a warming level of 2.0 °C.[96]

Glacier retreat and disappearance

Example of a glacier retreat: White Chuck Glacier, Washington
Glacier in Glacier Peak Wilderness, 1973
White Chuck Glacier in the United States in 1973
White Chuck Glacier in 2006; the glacier has retreated 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi).
Same vantage point in 2006. The glacier retreated 1.9 kilometres (1.2 mi) in 33 years.

The retreat of glaciers since 1850 is well documented and is one of the effects of climate change. The retreat of mountain glaciers, notably in western North America, Asia, the Alps and tropical and subtropical regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia, provide evidence for the rise in global temperatures since the late 19th century. The acceleration of the rate of retreat since 1995 of key outlet glaciers of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets may foreshadow a rise in sea level, which would affect coastal regions. Excluding peripheral glaciers of ice sheets, the total cumulated global glacial losses over the 26-year period from 1993 to 2018 were likely 5500 gigatons, or 210 gigatons per yr.[97]: 1275 

Deglaciation occurs naturally at the end of ice ages, but glaciologists find the current glacier retreat is accelerated by the measured increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases and is thus effect of climate change. Glacier mass balance is the key determinant of the health of a glacier. If the amount of frozen precipitation in the accumulation zone exceeds the quantity of glacial ice lost due to melting or in the ablation zone a glacier will advance; if the accumulation is less than the ablation, the glacier will retreat. Glaciers in retreat will have negative mass balances, and if they do not find an equilibrium between accumulation and ablation, will eventually disappear.

Permafrost thawing

See also: Climate change in Russia § Permafrost, and Arctic methane emissions

Section 'Effects of climate change' not found

Wildlife and nature

Main article: Climate change and ecosystems

See also: Extinction risk from climate change

Recent warming has strongly affected natural biological systems.[9] Species worldwide are moving poleward to colder areas. On land, species move to higher elevations, whereas marine species find colder water at greater depths.[10] Of the drivers with the biggest global impact on nature, climate change ranks third over the five decades before 2020, with only change in land use and sea use, and direct exploitation of organisms having a greater impact.[98]

The impacts of climate change in nature and nature's contributions to humans are projected to become more pronounced in the next few decades.[99] Examples of climatic disruptions include fire, drought, pest infestation, invasion of species, storms, and coral bleaching events. The stresses caused by climate change, added to other stresses on ecological systems (e.g. land conversion, land degradation, harvesting, and pollution), threaten substantial damage to or complete loss of some unique ecosystems, and extinction of some critically endangered species.[100] Key interactions between species within ecosystems are often disrupted because species from one location do not move to colder habitats at the same rate, giving rise to rapid changes in the functioning of the ecosystem.[10] Impacts include changes in regional rainfall patterns, earlier leafing of trees and plants over many regions; movements of species to higher latitudes and altitudes in the Northern Hemisphere; changes in bird migrations in Europe, North America and Australia; and shifting of the oceans' plankton and fish from cold- to warm-adapted communities.[101]

The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the global mean. Seas are on track to rise one to four feet higher by 2100, threatening coastal habitats.[102]

Terrestrial and wetland systems

Further information: Effects of climate change on terrestrial animals and Effects of climate change on plant biodiversity

Climate change has been estimated to be a major driver of biodiversity loss in cool conifer forests, savannas, mediterranean-climate systems, tropical forests, and the Arctic tundra.[103] In other ecosystems, land-use change may be a stronger driver of biodiversity loss, at least in the near-term.[103] Beyond the year 2050, climate change may be the major driver for biodiversity loss globally.[103] Climate change interacts with other pressures such as habitat modification, pollution and invasive species. Interacting with these pressures, climate change increases extinction risk for a large fraction of terrestrial and freshwater species.[104] Between 1% and 50% of species in different groups were assessed to be at substantially higher risk of extinction due to climate change.[11]

Marine ecosystems

Warm water coral reefs are very sensitive to global warming and ocean acidification. Coral reefs provide a habitat for thousands of species and ecosystem services such as coastal protection and food. The resilience of reefs can be improved by curbing local pollution and overfishing, but 70–90% of today's warm water coral reefs will disappear even if warming is kept to 1.5 °C.[12] Coral reefs are not the only framework organisms, organisms that build physical structures that form habitats for other sea creatures, affected by climate change: mangroves and seagrass are considered to be at moderate risk for lower levels of global warming according to a literature assessment in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.[105]

Marine heatwaves have seen an increased frequency and have widespread impacts on life in the oceans, such as mass dying events.[106] Harmful algae blooms have increased in response to warming waters, ocean deoxygenation and eutrophication.[107] Between one-quarter and one-third of our fossil fuel emissions are consumed by the earth's oceans, which are now 30 percent more acidic than they were in pre-industrial times. This acidification poses a serious threat to aquatic life, particularly creatures such as oysters, clams, and coral with calcified shells or skeletons.[102] Melting sea ice destroys habitat, including for algae that grows on its underside.[72] It is likely that the oceans warmed faster between 1993 and 2017 compared to the period starting in 1969.[108]

Floods

A large flat sheet of water reflects a grey sky with green tropical vegetation in the background
High tides flooding is increasing due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and the loss of natural barriers.[109]

Air holds 7% more water vapour for every degree Celsius it is warmed.[110] More highly water-saturated air tends to produce heavier rains, potentially worsening flooding.[110]

A 2017 study found that peak precipitation is increasing between 5 and 10% for every one degree Celsius increase.[111] In the United States and many other parts of the world there has been a marked increase in intense rainfall events which have resulted in more severe flooding.[112]

Between 1994 and 2006, satellite observations shows an 18% increase in the flow of freshwater into the world's oceans, partly from melting ice and partly from increased precipitation driven by an increase in global ocean evaporation. Much of the increase is in areas which already experience high rainfall. One effect, as perhaps experienced in the 2010 Pakistan floods, is to overwhelm flood control infrastructure.[113]

Droughts

Climate change affects multiple factors associated with droughts, such as how much rain falls and how fast the rain evaporates again. Warming over land drives an increase in atmospheric evaporative demand which will increase the severity and frequency of droughts around much of the world.[114][115] Due to limitations on how much data is available about drought in the past, it is often impossible to confidently attribute droughts to human-induced climate change. Some areas however, such as the Mediterranean and California, already show a clear human signature.[116] Their impacts are aggravated because of increased water demand, population growth, urban expansion, and environmental protection efforts in many areas.[117]

In 2019 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a Special Report on Climate Change and Land. The main statements of the report include:[118][119] In the years 1960 – 2013 the area of drylands in drought, increased by 1% per year. In the year 2015 around 500 million people lived in areas that was impacted by desertification in the years 1980s – 2000s. People who live in the areas affected by land degradation and desertification are "increasingly negatively affected by climate change".

Wildfires

Further information: Wildfire § Climate change effects

Average U.S. acreage burned annually by wildfires has almost tripled in three decades.[120]

Globally, climate change promotes the type of weather that makes wildfires more likely. In some areas, an increase of wildfires has been attributed directly to climate change. That warmer climate conditions pose more risks of wildfire is consistent with evidence from Earth's past: there was more fire in warmer periods, and less in colder climatic periods.[121] Climate change increases evaporation, which can cause vegetation to dry out. When a fire starts in an area with very dry vegetation, it can spread rapidly. Higher temperatures can also make the fire season longer, the time period in which severe wildfires are most likely. In regions where snow is disappearing, the fire season may get particularly more extended.[122]

Even thought weather conditions are raising the risks of wildfires, the total area burnt by wildfires has decreased globally. This is mostly the result of the conversion of savanna into croplands, so that there is less forest area that can burn. Prescribed burning, an indigenous practice in the US and Australia, can reduce the area burnt too, and may form an adaptation to increased risk.[122] The carbon released from wildfires can further increase greenhouse gas concentrations. This feedback is not yet fully integrated into climate models.[123]

Impacts on humans

See also: Climate change and gender

The effects of climate change on humans are far reaching and include effects on physical and mental health, environmental devastation, destruction of homes, forced displacement, mass migration, conflict over water and food, internal and international security, and the potential breakdown of society, energy, and transport. Climate change has brought about possibly irreversible alterations to Earth's geological, biological, and ecological systems.[124] These changes have led to the emergence of large-scale environmental hazards to human health, such as extreme weather,[125] increased danger of wildfires,[126] loss of biodiversity,[127] stresses to food-producing systems, and the global spread of infectious diseases.[128] In addition, climatic changes were estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually in 2002, with the World Health Organization estimating this number will increase to 250,000 deaths annually between 2030 and 2050.[129][130]

A growing body of research explores the many impacts of climate change on human health, food supply, economic growth, migration, security, societal change, and public goods, such as drinking water. The consequences of these changes are most likely detrimental in the long term. For example, Bangladesh has experienced an increase in climate-sensitive diseases; such as malaria, dengue fever, childhood diarrhea, and pneumonia, among vulnerable communities.[131] Numerous studies suggest that the net current and future impacts of climate change on human society will continue being overwhelmingly negative.[132][133]

Most adverse effects of climate change are experienced by poor and low-income communities around the world, who have much higher levels of vulnerability to environmental determinants of health, wealth and other factors. They also have much lower levels of capacity available for coping with environmental change. Most climate change induced mortality is due to worsening floods and droughts in developing countries.

The effects of climate change, in combination with the sustained increases in greenhouse gas emissions, have led scientists to characterize it as a climate emergency.[134][135][136] Some climate researchers[137][138] and activists[139] have called it an existential threat to civilization. Some areas may become too hot for humans to live in[140][141] while people in some areas may experience internal or long-distance displacement triggered by flooding and other climate change related disasters.[142]

The vulnerability and exposure of humans to climate change varies from one economic sector to another and will have different impacts in different countries. Wealthy industrialised countries, which have emitted the most CO2, have more resources and so are the least vulnerable to global warming.[143] Economic sectors that are likely to be affected include agriculture, human health, fisheries, forestry, energy, insurance, financial services, tourism, and recreation.[144] The quality and quantity of freshwater will likely be affected almost everywhere. Some people may be particularly at risk from climate change, such as the poor, young children and the elderly.[145][146]

According to the World Health Organization, between 2030 and 2050, "climate change is expected to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress."[147] As global temperatures increase, so does the number of heat stress, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney disease deaths and illnesses.[102] Air pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion is both a major driver of global warming and – in parallel and for comparison – the cause (or at least a substantially contributing factor) of a large number of annual deaths with some estimates as high as A review of this and a more nuanced assessment of mortality impacts in terms of contribution to death, rather than number of deceased, may be needed excess deaths during 2018.[148][149] It may be difficult to predict or attribute deaths to anthropogenic global warming or its particular drivers as many effects – such as possibly contributing to human conflict and socioeconomic disruptions – and their mortality impacts could be highly indirect or hard to evaluate. The effects of climate change are often interlinked and can mutually and synergistically[150] exacerbate each other as well as existing vulnerabilities[151][152][153] and other related environmental disruptions and pressures such as pollution and biodiversity loss.[154][155]

Key vulnerabilities

Most of the key vulnerabilities to climate change are related to climate phenomena that exceed thresholds for adaptation; such as extreme weather events or abrupt climate change, as well as limited access to resources (financial, technical, human, institutional) to cope. Humans generally live in areas where the average temperature is between 6 °C and 28 °C, with the majority of life in regions with a temperature of 11 °C – 15 °C. A temperature of 29 degrees or higher is considered as too hot for normal life and currently found only in 0.8% of the land surface (mainly in Sahara desert). However, according to the study by the year 2070 in the RCP8.5 (very high emission) scenario, 30% of human population will live in this area.[156][157]

Agriculture and food security

Main article: Climate change and agriculture

See also: Food security and Food vs. fuel

Climate change will impact agriculture and food production around the world due to the effects of elevated CO2 in the atmosphere; higher temperatures; altered precipitation and transpiration regimes; increased frequency of extreme events; and modified weed, pest, and pathogen pressure.[158] Climate change is projected to negatively affect all four pillars of food security: not only how much food is available, but also how easy food is to access (prices), food quality and how stable the food system is.[159]

Food availability

As of 2019, negative impacts have been observed for some crops in low-latitudes (maize and wheat), while positive impacts of climate change have been observed in some crops in high-latitudes (maize, wheat, and sugar beets).[160] Using different methods to project future crop yields, a consistent picture emerges of global decreases in yield. Maize and soybean decrease with any warming, whereas rice and wheat production might peak at 3 °C of warming.[161]

In many areas, fisheries have already seen their catch decrease because of global warming and changes in biochemical cycles. In combination with overfishing, warming waters decrease the maximum catch potential.[162] Global catch potential is projected to reduce further in 2050 by less than 4% if emissions are reduced strongly, and by about 8% for very high future emissions, with growth in the Arctic Ocean.[163]

Other aspects for agriculture and food security

Climate change impacts depend strongly on projected future social and economic development. As of 2019, an estimated 831 million people are undernourished.[164] Under a high emission scenario (RCP6.0), cereals are projected to become 1–29% more expensive in 2050 depending on the socioeconomic pathway, particularly affecting low-income consumers.[164] Compared to a no climate change scenario, this would put between 1–181 million extra people at risk of hunger.[164]

While CO2 is expected to be good for crop productivity at lower temperatures, it does reduce the nutritional values of crops, with for instance wheat having less protein and less of some minerals.[165] It is difficult to project the impact of climate change on utilization (protecting food against spoilage, being healthy enough to absorb nutrients, etc.) and on volatility of food prices. Most models projecting the future do indicate that prices will become more volatile.[166]

Droughts result in crop failures and the loss of pasture for livestock.[167] The rate of soil erosion is 10 – 20 times higher than the rate of soil accumulation in agricultural areas that use no-till farming.[118][119] In areas with tilling it is 100 times higher. Climate Change increases land degradation and desertification.[118][119]

Climate change will also cause soils to warm. In turn, this could cause the soil microbe population size to dramatically increase 40–150%. Warmer conditions would favor growth of certain bacteria species, shifting the bacterial community composition. Elevated carbon dioxide would increase the growth rates of plants and soil microbes, slowing the soil carbon cycle and favoring oligotrophs, which are slower-growing and more resource efficient than copiotrophs.[168]

Water security

See also: Effects of climate change on the water cycle

A number of climate-related trends have been observed that affect water resources. These include changes in precipitation, the cryosphere and surface waters (e.g., changes in river flows).[169] Observed and projected impacts of climate change on freshwater systems and their management are mainly due to changes in temperature, sea level and precipitation variability.[170] Changes in temperature are correlated with variability in precipitation because the water cycle is reactive to temperature.[171] Temperature increases change precipitation patterns. Excessive precipitation leads to excessive sediment deposition, nutrient pollution, and concentration of minerals in aquifers.

The rising global temperature will cause sea level rise and will extend areas of salinization of groundwater and estuaries, resulting in a decrease in freshwater availability for humans and ecosystems in coastal areas. The rising sea level will push the salt gradient into freshwater deposits and will eventually pollute freshwater sources. The 2014 fifth IPCC assessment report concluded that:

Health

Climate Crisis = Health Crisis
Example of impacts on health: Heat stroke treatment at Baton Rouge during 2016 Louisiana floods. Climate change is making heat waves more intense, potentially leading to a higher risk of heat stroke.

The effects of climate change on human health are increasingly well studied and quantified.[175][176] Rising temperatures and changes in weather patterns are increasing the severity of heat waves, extreme weather and other causes of illness, injury or death. Heat waves and extreme weather events have a big impact on health both directly and indirectly. When people are exposed to higher temperatures for longer time periods they might experience heat illness and heat-related death.[177]

In addition to direct impacts, climate change and extreme weather events cause changes in the biosphere. Certain diseases that are carried by vectors or spread by climate-sensitive pathogens may become more common in some regions. Examples include mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, and waterborne diseases such as diarrhoeal disease.[177][178] Climate change will impact where infectious diseases are able to spread in the future. Many infectious diseases will spread to new geographic areas where people have not previously been exposed to them.[179][180]
Flooding in the Midwestern United States, June 2008

Conflict

Main article: Climate security

Climate change can worsen conflicts by exacerbating tensions over limited resources like drinking water. Climate change has the potential to cause large population dislocations and migration, which can also lead to increased tensions and conflict.[181][182]

However, a 2018 study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that previous studies on the relationship between climate change and conflict suffered from sampling bias and other methodological problems.[183] Factors other than climate change are judged to be substantially more important in affecting conflict (based on expert elicitation). These factors include intergroup inequality and low socio-economic development.[184]

Despite these issues, military planners are concerned that global warming is a "threat multiplier". "Whether it is poverty, food and water scarcity, diseases, economic instability, or threat of natural disasters, the broad range of changing climatic conditions may be far reaching. These challenges may threaten stability in much of the world".[185] For example, the onset of the Arab Spring in 2010 was partly the result of a spike in wheat prices following crop losses from the 2010 Russian heat wave.[186][187] The United Nations said several times that climate change is already increasing conflicts in different regions of the world.[188][189]

Economic impact

Main article: Economic impacts of climate change

Overall economy and inequality

Business activities affected by climate changed as found in the European Investment Bank Investment Survey 2020

Economic forecasts of the impact of global warming vary considerably. Researchers have warned that current economic modelling may seriously underestimate the impact of potentially catastrophic climate change, and point to the need for new models that give a more accurate picture of potential damages. Nevertheless, one 2018 study found that potential global economic gains if countries implement mitigation strategies to comply with the 2 °C target set at the Paris Agreement are in the vicinity of US$17 trillion per year up to 2100 compared to a very high emission scenario.[190]

Global losses reveal rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather events since the 1970s.[36] Socio-economic factors have contributed to the observed trend of global losses, such as population growth and increased wealth.[191] Part of the growth is also related to regional climatic factors, e.g., changes in precipitation and flooding events. It is difficult to quantify the relative impact of socio-economic factors and climate change on the observed trend.[192] The trend does, however, suggest increasing vulnerability of social systems to climate change.[192]

A 2019 modelling study found that climate change had contributed towards global economic inequality. Wealthy countries in colder regions had either felt little overall economic impact from climate change, or possibly benefited, whereas poor hotter countries very likely grew less than if global warming had not occurred.[193]

The total economic impacts from climate change are difficult to estimate, but increase for higher temperature changes.[194] For instance, total damages are estimated to be 90% less if global warming is limited to 1.5 °C compared to 3.66 °C, a warming level chosen to represent no mitigation.[195] One study found a 3.5% reduction in global GDP by the end of the century if warming is limited to 3 °C, excluding the potential effect of tipping points. Another study noted that global economic impact is underestimated by a factor of two to eight when tipping points are excluded from consideration.[195] In the Oxford Economics high emission scenario, a temperature rise of 2 degrees by the year 2050 would reduce global GDP by 2.5% – 7.5%. By the year 2100 in this case, the temperature would rise by 4 degrees, which could reduce the global GDP by 30% in the worst case.[196]

Energy

Oil and natural gas infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the increased risk of disasters such as storm, cyclones, flooding and long-term increases in sea level.[197] All thermal power stations depend on water to cool them. Not only is there increased demand for fresh water, but climate change can increase the likelihood of drought and fresh water shortages. Another impact for thermal power plants, is that increasing the temperatures in which they operate reduces their efficiency and hence their output.[198]

The impact of water shortages on nuclear power plants cooled by rivers will be greater than on other thermal power plants. This is because old reactor designs with water-cooled cores must run at lower internal temperatures and thus, paradoxically, must dump more heat to the environment to produce a given amount of electricity. This situation has forced some nuclear reactors to be shut down due to overly high temperatures in a natural body of water, and will do so again unless the cooling systems of these plants are enhanced to provide more capacity. Nuclear power supply was diminished by low river flow rates and droughts, which meant rivers had reached the maximum temperatures for cooling. Many scientists agree that if global warming continues, this disruption is likely to increase.[198]

Changes in the amount of river flow will correlate with the amount of energy produced by a dam. The result of diminished river flow can be a power shortage in areas that depend heavily on hydroelectric power. Studies from the Colorado River in the United States suggests that modest climate changes (such as a 2-degree change in Celsius that could result in a 10% decline in precipitation), might reduce river run-off by up to 40%. Brazil in particular, is vulnerable due to its having reliance on hydroelectricity as increasing temperatures, lower water flow, and alterations in the rainfall regime, could reduce total energy production by 7% annually by the end of the century.[198]

Agriculture

Insurance

New Orleans submerged after Hurricane Katrina

The insurance industry is predicated on managing the risks associated with damages to property and since climate change has direct consequences on the safety of society; insurers must adapt to these changes.[199]

In March 2019, Munich Re noted that climate change could cause home insurance to become unaffordable for households at or below average incomes.[200]

Transport

Roads, airport runways, railway lines and pipelines, (including oil pipelines, sewers, water mains etc.) may require increased maintenance and renewal as they become subject to greater temperature variation. Regions already adversely affected include areas of permafrost, which are subject to high levels of subsidence, resulting in buckling roads, sunken foundations, and severely cracked runways.[201]

Displacement and migration

See also: Environmental migrant

See also: Effects of climate change on island nations and Climate change adaptation

Climate change causes displacement of people in several ways. Firstly, through the increased number and severity of weather-related disasters which destroy homes and habitats causing people to seek shelter or livelihoods elsewhere. Effects of climate change such as desertification and rising sea levels gradually erode livelihood and force communities to abandon traditional homelands for more accommodating environments. This is currently happening in areas of Africa's Sahel, the semi-arid belt that spans the continent just below its northern deserts. Deteriorating environments triggered by climate change can also lead to increased conflict over resources which in turn can displace people.[202] According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in 2020 approximately 30 million people were displaced by extreme weather events while approximately 10 million by violence and wars and climate change significantly contributed to this.[203][204]

Sea level rise at the Marshall Islands, reaching the edge of a village (from the documentary One Word)

Asia and the Pacific is the global area most prone to natural disasters, both in terms of the absolute number of disasters and of populations affected. It is highly exposed to climate impacts, and is home to highly vulnerable population groups, who are disproportionately poor and marginalized. A 2015 Asian Development Bank report highlights "environmental hot spots" that are particular risk of flooding, cyclones, typhoons, and water stress.[205]

Some Pacific Ocean island nations, such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Maldives,[206] are considering the eventual possibility of evacuation, as flood defense may become economically unrealistic. Tuvalu already has an ad hoc agreement with New Zealand to allow phased relocation.[207] However, for some islanders relocation is not an option. They are not willing to leave their homes, land and families. Some simply don't know the threat that climate change has on their island and this is mainly down to the lack of awareness that climate change even exists. As of 2020 many Pacific islands are growing in size, contradicting earlier claims.[208]

Governments have considered various approaches to reduce migration compelled by environmental conditions in at-risk communities, including programs of social protection, livelihoods development, basic urban infrastructure development, and disaster risk management. Some experts support migration as an appropriate way for people to cope with environmental changes. However, this is controversial because migrants – particularly low-skilled ones – are among the most vulnerable people in society and are often denied basic protections and access to services.[205]

Climate change is only one factor that may contribute to a household's decision to migrate; other factors may include poverty, population growth or employment options.[209] For this reason, it is difficult to classify environmental migrants as actual "refugees" as legally defined by the UNHCR.[210]

In small islands and megadeltas, inundation as a result of sea level rise is expected to threaten vital infrastructure and human settlements.[211][212] This could lead to issues of statelessness for populations in countries such as the Maldives and Tuvalu[213] and homelessness in countries with low-lying areas such as Bangladesh.

Gradual but pervasive environmental change and sudden natural disasters both influence the nature and extent of human migration but in different ways. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that climate change increases mass displacement, in many regions, including Sahel, East Africa, South Asia, the "drought corridor" in Latin America. 90% of refugees comes from "climate vulnerable hotspots".[189]

Slow-onset disasters and gradual environmental erosion such as desertification, reduction of soil fertility, coastal erosion and sea-level rise are likely to induce long-term migration.[214] Migration related to desertification and reduced soil fertility is likely to be predominantly from rural areas in developing countries to towns and cities.[215]

The United Nations says there are already 64 million migrants in the world fleeing wars, hunger, persecution and the effects of global warming.[216] In 2018, the World Bank estimated that climate change will cause internal migration of between 31 and 143 million people as they escape crop failures, water scarcity, and sea level rise. The study only included Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America.[217][218]

A 2020 study projects that regions inhabited by a third of the human population could become as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years without a change in patterns of population growth and without migration, unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. The projected annual average temperature of above 29 °C for these regions would be outside the "human temperature niche" – a suggested range for climate biologically suitable for humans based on historical data of mean annual temperatures (MAT) – and the most affected regions have little adaptive capacity as of 2020.[219][220]

Social impacts

See also: Climate change and poverty and Climate change and gender

The consequences of climate change and poverty are not distributed uniformly within communities. Individual and social factors such as gender, age, education, ethnicity, geography and language lead to differential vulnerability and capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Disproportionate effects on children

A child at a climate demonstration in Juneau, Alaska

Children are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than adults. The World Health Organization estimated that 88% of the existing global burden of disease caused by climate change affects children under five years of age.[221] A Lancet review on health and climate change lists children as the worst-affected category by climate change.[222] Children under 14 are 44 percent more likely to die from environmental factors,[223] and those in urban areas are disproportionately impacted by lower air quality and overcrowding.[224]

Children are physically more vulnerable to climate change in all its forms.[225] Climate change affects the physical health of children and their well-being. Prevailing inequalities, between and within countries, determine how climate change impacts children.[226] Children often have no voice in terms of global responses to climate change.[225]

Environmental racism

Main article: Environmental racism

Climate change disproportionately affects racial minorities, with non-white and lower-income communities being disproportionately exposed to pollution and toxic waste, a trend known as environmental racism. Landfills, mines, power plants, sewage, and large highways are all more prevalent in majority-minority neighborhoods. Corporations tend to build factories and warehouses near poorer communities which are often more diverse, resulting in poorer air and water quality. Latino Americans are exposed to 63% more pollution than they produce and African Americans to 56% more, while White Americans are exposed to 17% less pollution than they produce.[227]

Human settlement

Further information: Sea level rise and Climate change and cities

A major challenge for human settlements is sea level rise, indicated by ongoing observation and research of rapid declines in ice-mass balance from both Greenland and Antarctica. Estimates for 2100 are at least twice as large as previously estimated by IPCC AR4, with an upper limit of about two meters.[228] Depending on regional changes, increased precipitation patterns can cause more flooding or extended drought stresses water resources.

Coasts and low-lying areas

Floodplains and low-lying coastal areas will flood more frequently due to climate change, like this area of Myanmar which was submerged by Cyclone Nargis

For historical reasons to do with trade, many of the world's largest and most prosperous cities are on the coast. In developing countries, the poorest often live on floodplains, because it is the only available space, or fertile agricultural land. These settlements often lack infrastructure such as dykes and early warning systems. Poorer communities also tend to lack the insurance, savings, or access to credit needed to recover from disasters.

The IPCC reported that socioeconomic impacts of climate change in coastal and low-lying areas would be overwhelmingly adverse. The following impacts were projected with very high confidence:[229]

Projections for cities in 2050

In 2019 the Crowther Lab from ETH Zürich paired the climatic conditions of 520 major cities worldwide with the predicted climatic conditions of cities in 2050. 22% of the major cities are predicted to have climatic conditions that do not exist in any city today. 2050 London will have a climate similar to 2019 Melbourne, Athens and Madrid like Fez, Morocco, Nairobi like Maputo. The Indian city Pune will be like Bamako in Mali, Bamako will be like Niamey in Niger. Brasilia will be like Goiania.[230][231]

Increased extreme heat exposure from both climate change and the urban heat island effect threatens urban settlements.[232]

Abrupt or irreversible changes

Main articles: Tipping points in the climate system and Abrupt climate change

Self-reinforcing feedbacks amplify climate change.[233] The climate system exhibits threshold behaviour or tipping points when these feedbacks lead parts of the Earth system into a new state, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or the destruction of too many forests.[234][235] Tipping points are studied using data from Earth's distant past and by physical modelling.[234] There is already moderate risk of global tipping points at 1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures, and that risk becomes high at 2.5 °C.[236]

Tipping points are "perhaps the most 'dangerous' aspect of future climate changes", leading to irreversible impacts on society.[237] Many tipping points are interlinked, so that triggering one may lead to a cascade of effects,[238] even well below 2 degrees of warming.[239] A 2018 study states that 45% of environmental problems, including those caused by climate change are interconnected and make the risk of a domino effect bigger.[240][241]

The probability of warming having unforeseen consequences increases with the rate, magnitude, and duration of climate change.[242]

Amazon rainforest

Rainfall that falls on the Amazon rainforest is recycled when it evaporates back into the atmosphere instead of running off away from the rainforest. This water is essential for sustaining the rainforest. Due to deforestation the rainforest is losing this ability, exacerbated by climate change which brings more frequent droughts to the area. The higher frequency of droughts seen in the first two decades of the 21st century, as well as other data, signal that a tipping point from rainforest to savanna might be close. One study concluded that this ecosystem could enter a mode of a 50-years-long collapse to a savanna around 2021, after which it would become increasingly and disproportionally more difficult to prevent or reverse this shift.[243][244][245]

Greenland and West Antarctic Ice sheets

Future melt of the West Antarctic ice sheet is potentially abrupt under a high emission scenario, as a consequence of a partial collapse.[246] Part of the ice sheet is grounded on bedrock below sea level, making it possibly vulnerable to the self-enhancing process of marine ice sheet instability. A further hypothesis is that marine ice cliff instability would also contribute to a partial collapse, but limited evidence is available for its importance.[247] A partial collapse of the ice sheet would lead to rapid sea level rise and a local decrease in ocean salinity. It would be irreversible on a timescale between decades and millennia.[246]

In contrast to the West Antarctic ice sheet, melt of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to be taking place more gradually over millennia.[246] Sustained warming between 1 °C (low confidence) and 4 °C (medium confidence) would lead to a complete loss of the ice sheet, contributing 7 m to sea levels globally.[248] The ice loss could become irreversible due to a further self-enhancing feedback: the elevation-surface mass balance feedback. When ice melts on top of the ice sheet, the elevation drops. As air temperature is higher at lower altitude, this promotes further melt.[249]

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

refer to caption
This map shows the general location and direction of the warm surface (red) and cold deep water (blue) currents of the thermohaline circulation. Salinity is represented by color in units of the Practical Salinity Scale. Low values (blue) are less saline, while high values (orange) are more saline.[250]

See also: Shutdown of thermohaline circulation

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), an important component of the Earth's climate system, is a northward flow of warm, salty water in the upper layers of the Atlantic and a southward flow of colder water in the deep Atlantic.[251]: 5  Potential impacts associated with AMOC changes include reduced warming or (in the case of abrupt change) absolute cooling of northern high-latitude areas near Greenland and north-western Europe, an increased warming of Southern Hemisphere high-latitudes, tropical drying, as well as changes to marine ecosystems, terrestrial vegetation, oceanic CO
2
uptake, oceanic oxygen concentrations, and shifts in fisheries.[252]

According to a 2019 assessment in the IPCC's Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate it is very likely (greater than 90% probability, based on expert judgement) that the strength of the AMOC will decrease further over the course of the 21st century.[253] Warming is still expected to occur over most of the European region downstream of the North Atlantic Current in response to increasing GHGs, as well as over North America. With medium confidence, the IPCC report stated that it is very unlikely (less than 10% probability) that the AMOC will collapse in the 21st century.[253] The potential consequences of such a collapse could be severe.[251]: 5 

Irreversible change

Warming commitment to CO2 concentrations.

If emissions of CO2 were to be abruptly stopped and no negative emission technologies deployed, the Earth's climate would not start moving back to its pre-industrial state. Instead, temperatures would stay elevated at the same level for several centuries. After about a thousand years, 20% to 30% of human-emitted CO2 will remain in the atmosphere, not taken up by the ocean or the land, committing the climate to warming long after emissions have stopped.[254] Pathways that keep global warming under 1.5 °C often rely on large-scale removal of CO2, which feasibility is uncertain and has clear risks.[255]

Irreversible impacts

There are a number of examples of climate change impacts on the environment that may be irreversible, at least over the timescale of many human generations.[256] These include the large-scale singularities such as the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, and changes to the AMOC.[256] In biological systems, the extinction of species would be an irreversible impact.[256] In social systems, unique cultures may be lost due to climate change.[256] For example, humans living on atoll islands face risks due to sea level rise, sea surface warming, and increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.[257]

Variations between regions

See also: Climate variability and change § Variability between regions

Past (prior to 2017) and projected (up to year 2100) Köppen-Geiger climate classification maps.[258]

When the global temperature changes, the changes in climate are not expected to be uniform across the Earth. In particular, land areas change more quickly than oceans, and northern high latitudes change more quickly than the tropics, and the margins of biome regions change faster than do their cores. There are three major ways in which global warming will make changes to regional climate: melting or forming ice, changing the hydrological cycle (of evaporation and precipitation) and changing currents in the oceans and air flows in the atmosphere.

Projections of climate changes at the regional scale do not hold as high a level of scientific confidence as projections made at the global scale.[259] It is, however, expected that future warming will follow a similar geographical pattern to that seen already, with the greatest warming over land and high northern latitudes, and least over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.[260][needs update] Land areas warm faster than ocean, and this feature is even stronger for extreme temperatures. For hot extremes, regions with the most warming include Central and Southern Europe and Western and Central Asia.[261]

CMIP5 average of climate model projections for 2081–2100 relative to 1986–2005, under low and high emission scenarios.

Especially affected regions

The Arctic, Africa, small islands, Asian megadeltas and the Middle East are regions that are likely to be especially affected by climate change.[262][263] Low-latitude, less-developed regions are at most risk of experiencing negative impacts due to climate change.[145]

The ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are among the most vulnerable in the world to the negative effects of climate change, however, ASEAN's climate mitigation efforts are not commensurate with the climate change threats the region faces.[264] Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate variability and change because of multiple existing stresses and low adaptive capacity. Climate change is projected to decrease freshwater availability in central, south, east and southeast Asia, particularly in large river basins. With population growth and increasing demand from higher standards of living, this decrease could adversely affect more than a billion people by the 2050s. Small islands, whether located in the tropics or higher latitudes, are already exposed to extreme weather events and changes in sea level. This existing exposure will likely make these areas sensitive to the effects of climate change.

Developed countries are also vulnerable to climate change, and have already been negatively affected by increases in the severity and frequency of some extreme weather events, such as heat waves, floods, wildfires, and tropical cyclones.[265][266][267]

Low-lying coastal regions

Given high coastal population density, estimates of the number of people at risk of coastal flooding from climate-driven sea-level rise varies from 190 million,[268] to 300 million or even 640 million in a worst-case scenario related to the instability of the Antarctic ice sheet.[269][270] The most people affected are in the densely-populated and low-lying megadeltas of Asia and Africa.[271]

The Greenland ice sheet is estimated to have reached a point of no return, continuing to melt even if warming stopped. Over time that would submerge many of the world's coastal cities including low-lying islands, especially combined with storm surges and high tides.[272]

The Arctic

Major environmental issues caused by contemporary climate change in the Arctic region range from the well-known, such as the loss of sea ice or melting of the Greenland ice sheet, to more obscure, but deeply significant issues, such as permafrost thaw,[273] as well as related social consequences for locals and the geopolitical ramifications of these changes.[274] The Arctic is likely to be especially affected by climate change because of the high projected rate of regional warming and associated impacts.[275] Temperature projections for the Arctic region were assessed in 2007:[276] These suggested already averaged warming of about 2 °C to 9 °C by the year 2100. The range reflects different projections made by different climate models, run with different forcing scenarios. Radiative forcing is a measure of the effect of natural and human activities on the climate. Different forcing scenarios reflect things such as different projections of future human greenhouse gas emissions.

The southern part of the Arctic region (home to 4,000,000 people) has experienced a temperature rise of 1 °C to 3 °C (1.8 °F to 5.4 °F) over the last 50 years.[277] Canada, Alaska and Russia are experiencing initial melting of permafrost. This may disrupt ecosystems and by increasing bacterial activity in the soil lead to these areas becoming carbon sources instead of carbon sinks.[278] A study (published in Science) of changes to eastern Siberia's permafrost suggests that it is gradually disappearing in the southern regions, leading to the loss of nearly 11% of Siberia's nearly 11,000 lakes since 1971.[279] At the same time, western Siberia is at the initial stage where melting permafrost is creating new lakes, which will eventually start disappearing as in the east. Furthermore, permafrost melting will eventually cause methane release from melting permafrost peat bogs.

Africa

Climate change in Africa is an increasingly serious threat as Africa is among the most vulnerable continents to the effects of climate change.[280][281][282] Some sources even classify Africa as "the most vulnerable continent on Earth".[283][284] Climate change and climate variability will likely reduce agricultural production, food security and water security.[285] As a result, there will be negative consequences on people's lives and sustainable development in Africa.[281]

Small islands

Small islands developing states are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially sea level rise. They are expected to experience more intense storm surges, salt water intrusion, and coastal destruction.[286] Low-lying small islands in the Pacific, Indian, and Caribbean regions are at risk of permanent inundation and population displacement.[287][288][289] On the islands of Fiji, Tonga and western Samoa, concentrations of migrants from outer islands inhabit low and unsafe areas along the coasts.[289]

Atoll nations, which include countries that are composed entirely of the smallest form of islands, called motus, are at risk of entire population displacement.[290][287] These nations include Kiribati, Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and Tuvalu.[287][288] Vulnerability is increased by small size, isolation from other land, low financial resources, and lack of protective infrastructure.[287]

A study that engaged the experiences of residents in atoll communities found that the cultural identities of these populations are strongly tied to these lands.[291] Human rights activists argue that the potential loss of entire atoll countries, and consequently the loss of national sovereignty, self-determination, cultures, and indigenous lifestyles cannot be compensated for financially.[290][287] Some researchers suggest that the focus of international dialogues on these issues should shift from ways to relocate entire communities to strategies that instead allow for these communities to remain on their lands.[290][291]

Middle East

Main article: Climate change in the Middle East and North Africa

The region of Middle East is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. The impacts include increase in drought conditions, aridity, heatwaves, sea level rise. If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, the region can become uninhabitable before the year 2100.[292][293]

See also

Sources

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