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Effects of climate change

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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[2][3] of climate change. Some effects act as feedbacks that intensify climate change.[4]

The effects of climate change span the impacts on physical environment, ecosystems and human societies due to 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] Effects that scientists predicted in the past—loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves—are now occurring.[7] The changes in climate are not uniform across the Earth. In particular, most land areas have warmed faster than most ocean areas, and the Arctic is warming faster than most other regions.[8] The regional changes vary: at high latitudes it is the average temperature that is increasing, while for the oceans and tropics it is in particular the rainfall and the water cycle where changes are observed.[9] Global warming changes regional climate via the melting of ice, changes in the hydrological cycle (such as rainfall) and changing currents in the oceans.

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.[3]: 20  The uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is leading to ocean acidification.[3]: 9 

Climate change has degraded land by raising temperatures, drying soils and increasing wildfire risk.[10] Recent warming has strongly affected natural biological systems.[11] Species worldwide are migrating poleward to colder areas. On land, many species move to higher elevations, whereas marine species seek colder water at greater depths.[12] Between 1% and 50% of species on land were assessed to be at substantially higher risk of extinction due to climate change.[13] Coral reefs and shellfish are vulnerable to the combined threat of ocean warming and acidification.[14] Species biodiversity in urban areas are at risk due to the effects of climate change. Urbanization and industrialization have been linked to various factors of climate change such as pollution and temperature changes.[15] Sea level rise remains a major concern for cities are along coastlines, affecting human settlements and infrastructure. The cities with warmer temperatures tend to have more frequent and severe thunderstorms and lightning.

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. The vulnerability and exposure of humans to climate change varies by economic sector and by country. Wealthy industrialised countries, which have emitted the most CO2, have more resources and so are the least vulnerable to global warming.[16] Economic sectors that are likely to be affected include agriculture, fisheries, forestry, energy, insurance, financial services, tourism, and recreation.[17] Some groups may be particularly at risk from climate change, such as the poor, women, children and indigenous peoples.[18][19] They also have much lower levels of capacity for coping with the effects of environmental change. Climate change can result in environmental migration, especially in developing countries where people are directly dependent on land for food.[20][21]

Observed and future changes in temperature

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.[22] Global surface temperatures have risen by 1 °C and are expected to rise further in the future.[22][23] Night-time temperatures have increased faster than daytime temperatures.[24] The impact on the environment, wildlife, society and humanity depends on how much more the Earth warms.[25]

One of the methods scientists use to predict the effects of human-caused climate change is to investigate past natural changes in climate.[26] To assess changes in Earth's past climate scientists have studied tree rings, ice cores, corals, and ocean and lake sediments.[27] These show that recent warming has surpassed anything in the last 2,000 years.[28] By the end of the 21st century, temperatures may increase to a level not experienced since the mid-Pliocene, around 3 million years ago.[29] 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.[30]

Projected temperature and sea-level rise relative to the 2000–2019 mean for RCP climate change scenarios up to 2500.[31][32]

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.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35]

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 a warmer state long after emissions have stopped.[36]

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.[37]

Weather-related changes

A dry lakebed in California, which is in 2022 experiencing its most serious drought in 1,200 years, worsened by climate change.[38]

For the most part, weather continues much as it has, except climate change makes many aspects more extreme, especially heat waves, drought, rain intensity, and storm size and intensity. That is, climate change does not create these events, it exacerbates them.[39][40] Global warming leads to an increase in extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, cyclones, blizzards and rainstorms.[41] Such events will continue to occur more often and with greater intensity.[42] Some individual extreme weather events are made worse by climate change.[43]

The lower and middle atmosphere, where nearly all of the weather occurs, are heating due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Increased greenhouse gases cause the higher parts of the atmosphere, the stratosphere, to cool.[44] The heated atmosphere contains more water vapour, which is also a greenhouse gas and acts as a self-reinforcing feedback.[45]

As temperatures increase, so does evaporation and atmospheric moisture content that increases heating by trapping outgoing radiation. Excess water vapour gets caught up in storms and makes them more intense, larger, and potentially longer lasting, so that rain and snow events are stronger and increase risk of flooding. Extra drying worsens any natural dry spells and droughts, and increases risk of heat waves and wildfires.[46]

Rain and snow

Warming by greenhouse gas forcing has increased contrasts in rainfall amounts between wet and dry seasons, meaning "wet seasons are getting wetter, dry seasons are getting drier".[47]: 8  Over oceans, salty areas are getting saltier and other regions are becoming less saline.[48] Warming has also resulted in a detectable increase in the precipitation of northern high latitudes.[47]: 8 

Higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation and surface drying. As the air warms, its water-holding capacity also increases, particularly over the oceans. Air can hold 7% more water vapour for every degree Celsius it is warmed.[47]: 8  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.[49]

In the case of precipitation, the rising temperatures and extra heat will "intensify" the Earth's water cycle, which means it will increase evaporation. Increased atmospheric water vapour results in more frequent and intense downpours and causes stronger 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. Overall, there is likely to be longer hot dry spells, broken by more intense heavy rainfalls (along the lines of the English proverb "it never rains but it pours!").[9]: 151 

Changes in regional climate are expected to include greater temperature increases over land, with most warming at high northern latitudes, and least warming over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.[50] 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.[51]


Lightning in the Oradea,Romania (August 17, 2005)[52]

Lightning strikes occur more frequently in hot weather. According to a study published in 2014, the number of lightning strikes will increase by about 12% for every degree of rise in global average air temperature.[53] However, the impact of global warming on lightning rates is poorly constrained.[53] The well developed cities exert its consequences or influences upon the climate and the pollution of the city which in return affects the frequency and the effects of the thunderstorms and the lightning. The mid developed cities were found to have less impact on the thunderstorm while the large cities had warmer temperatures which lead to increased severity of the thunderstorms.[54] The studies show that the urban areas modify their climate in terms of temperature and the rainfall it receives. Convection is one of the ways that the urban areas are able to change their climate. Two cities larger in size had dramatic differences in terms of the thunderstorm and the lightning they received, the differences were due to the population that each city held. The city with the most population produced more convection and the results related to the formation of the thunderstorms. The cities which are mid sized produced almost the same amount of the influences to modify their climate but the results do not explicitly show the effects on the convection.[54] In Atlanta, the thunderstorms were happening at much more higher frequency on the weekdays than on the weekends.[55] The effects of the lightining are also crucial to the trees and the ecosystem. The study done in 2016, by Abatzpglou and Williams, the percentage of the fires caused by the lightning was 40% from 1992 to 2013 in the Western areas of the United States. The lightning affects the trees which are planted in the certain areas which receives the most lightning and affecting the carbon cycle of the trees.[56] The study done in 2009 by Bell el al, shows that the level of the aerosol have increased by the middle of the week by the amount of the people travelling through transportation. The increase in transportation and the aerosol gives rise to the thunderstorms especially in the cities where the humidity level are high or the temperature which is higher due to infrastructure such as; buildings which capture the heat.[56]

Heat waves and temperature extremes

Large increases in both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events (for increasing degrees of global warming) are expected.[57]: 18 
Map of increasing heatwave trends (frequency and cumulative intensity) over the midlatitudes and Europe, July–August 1979–2020.[58]

Global heating boosts the probability of extreme weather events such as heat waves[59][60] where the daily maximum temperature exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5 °C (9 °F) for more than five consecutive days.[61] 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.[62]

It was estimated in 2013 that global warming had increased the probability of local record-breaking monthly temperatures worldwide by a factor of 5.[63] 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.

Study results indicate that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C would prevent most of the tropics from reaching the wet-bulb temperature of the human physiological limit of 35 °C.[64][65]

Future climate change will include more very hot days and fewer very cold days.[66] The frequency, length and intensity of heat waves will very likely increase over most land areas.[66] Higher growth in anthropogenic GHG emissions would cause more frequent and severe temperature extremes.[67] Globally, cold waves have decreased in frequency.[57]: 8  There is some evidence climate change leads to a weakening of the polar vortex, which would make the jet stream more wavy.[68] This would lead to outbursts of very cold winter weather across parts of Eurasia[69] and North America, as well as very warm air incursions into the Arctic.[70][71][72]

refer to caption
Frequency (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). The distribution of anomalies has shifted to the right due to global warming, meaning that unusually hot summers have become more common.[73]

Tropical cyclones and storms

North Atlantic tropical cyclone activity according to the Power Dissipation Index, 1949–2015. Sea surface temperature has been plotted alongside the PDI to show how they compare. The lines have been smoothed using a five-year weighted average, plotted at the middle year.
Climate change can affect tropical cyclones in a variety of ways: an intensification of rainfall and wind speed, a decrease in overall frequency, an increase in the frequency of very intense storms and a poleward extension of where the cyclones reach maximum intensity are among the possible consequences of human-induced climate change.[74] Tropical cyclones use warm, moist air as their source of energy or "fuel". As climate change is warming ocean temperatures, there is potentially more of this fuel available.[75] Between 1979 and 2017, there was a global increase in the proportion of tropical cyclones of Category 3 and higher on the Saffir–Simpson scale. The trend was most clear in the North Atlantic and in the Southern Indian Ocean. In the North Pacific, tropical cyclones have been moving poleward into colder waters and there was no increase in intensity over this period.[76] With 2 °C (3.6 °F) warming, a greater percentage (+13%) of tropical cyclones are expected to reach Category 4 and 5 strength.[74] A 2019 study indicates that climate change has been driving the observed trend of rapid intensification of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin. Rapidly intensifying cyclones are hard to forecast and therefore pose additional risk to coastal communities.[77]

Extreme event attribution

Extreme event attribution, also known as attribution science, is a relatively new field of study in meteorology and climate science that tries to measure how ongoing climate change directly affects recent extreme weather events.[78][79][80][81] Attribution science aims to determine which such recent events can be explained by or linked to a warming atmosphere and are not simply due to natural variations.[82]

Weather-related impacts


High tide flooding is increasing due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and the loss of natural barriers.[83]
High tide flooding, also called tidal flooding, has become much more common in the past seven decades.[85]
Long-term sea level rise is additive with intermittent tidal flooding. NOAA predicts different levels of seal level rise for coastlines within a single country.[86]

Global warming makes bigger storm events more common due to an intensification of the water cycle.[87] This increase in the frequency of large storm events would alter existing Intensity-Duration-Frequency curves (IDF curves) due to the change in frequency, but also by lifting and steepening the curves in the future.[88] The urban areas are prone to receiving more rainfall. The enormous amount of rainfall produces the pluvial flooding. The rural areas do not receive such type of flooding due to their infrastructure and the amount of the roads which cover the areas. The urban areas have concrete roads and the amount of the surface which has the ability to absorb the water is less than the rural or non-urban areas. Due to the surface differences, the water builds up in the cities and causing floods which also damage the infrastructure and the mass density of the people residing in the cities.[89] Salt Creek, Illinois face both the small and large floods, and there has been increase in the small floods by 200 percent and due to the frequency that the small floods occur in, the consequence can be same as the large floods. The data showed direct correlation between the increase in floods and increase in urbanization. In Maryland, the frequency of the moderate floods had increased from 1940 in which the state experienced the floods once or twice a year to 1990 in which the flood was experienced up to six times.[90]


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.[47]: 1057  Scientists predict that in some regions of the world, there will be less rain in future due to global warming. These regions will therefore be more prone to drought in future: subtropical regions like the Mediterranean, southern Africa, south-western Australia and south-western South America, as well as tropical Central America, western Africa and the Amazon basin.[47]: 1157 

Physics dictates that higher temperatures lead to increased evaporation. The effect of this is soil drying and increased plant stress which will have impacts on agriculture.[47]: 1157  For this reason, even those regions where large changes in precipitation are not expected (such as central and northern Europe) will experience soil drying.[47]: 1157  The latest prediction of scientists in 2022 is that "If emissions of greenhouse gases are not curtailed, about a third of global land areas are projected to suffer from at least moderate drought by 2100".[47]: 1157  When droughts occur they are likely to be more intense than in the past.[91]

Due to limitations on how much data is available about drought in the past, it is often impossible to confidently attribute a specific drought to human-induced climate change. Some areas however, such as the Mediterranean and California, already show the impacts of human activities.[92] Their impacts are made worse because of increased water demand, population growth, urban expansion, and environmental protection efforts in many areas.[93]

The frequency and the duration of droughts have both increased: They increased by 29% from the year 2000 to 2022.[94] The prediction is that by 2050 more than 75% of humanity will live in drought conditions.[94]: 37  Land restoration, especially by agroforestry, can help reduce the impact of droughts.[94]

In 2019 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a Special Report on Climate Change and Land. The main statements of the report include:[95][96] Between 1960 and 2013 the area of drylands in drought increased by 1% per year. In 2015, around 500 million people lived in areas impacted by desertification between the 1980s and 2000s. People who live in areas affected by land degradation and desertification are "increasingly negatively affected by climate change".[citation needed]

In the past, there were some apparently conflicting results in the scientific literature about how drought is changing due to climate change.[91] This was found to be mostly due to problems with collection and analysis of data, for example in the formulation of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) and the data sets used to determine the evapotranspiration component. The accurate attribution of the causes of drought also requires accounting for natural variability, especially El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) effects and better analysis of precipitation data.[91]


Average U.S. acreage burned annually by wildfires has almost tripled in three decades.[97]

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.[98] 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.[99]

Even though 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, after which 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.[99] The carbon released from wildfires can further increase greenhouse gas concentrations. This feedback is not yet fully integrated into climate models.[57]: 20 


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.[100]: 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.[101]

Among the effects of climate change on oceans are: an increase in sea surface temperature as well as ocean temperatures at greater depths, more frequent marine heatwaves, a reduction in pH value, a rise in sea level from ocean warming and ice sheet melting, sea ice decline in the Arctic, increased upper ocean stratification, reductions in oxygen levels, increased contrasts in salinity (salty areas becoming saltier and fresher areas becoming less salty),[102] changes to ocean currents including a weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, and stronger tropical cyclones and monsoons.[103] All these changes have knock-on effects which disturb marine ecosystems. The root cause of these observed changes is the Earth warming due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, such as for example carbon dioxide and methane. This leads inevitably to ocean warming, because the ocean is taking up most of the additional heat in the climate system.[104] Some of the additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is taken up by the ocean (via carbon sequestration), which leads to ocean acidification of the ocean water.[105] It is estimated that the ocean takes up roughly a quarter of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions.[105]

Warming of the ocean surface due to higher air temperatures leads to increased ocean temperature stratification.[106]: 471  The decline in mixing of the ocean layers stabilises 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 is the capacity of the oceans to store carbon.[107]

Warmer water cannot contain as much oxygen as cold water. As a result, the gas exchange equilibrium changes to reduce ocean oxygen levels and increase oxygen in the atmosphere. Increased thermal stratification may lead to reduced supply of oxygen from the surface waters to deeper waters, and therefore further decrease the water's oxygen content.[108] The ocean has already lost oxygen throughout the water column, and oxygen minimum zones are expanding worldwide.[106]: 471 

These changes disturb marine ecosystems, which can accelerate species extinctions[109] or create population explosions, thus changing the distribution of species,[103] and impact coastal fishing and tourism. Increase of water temperature will also have a devastating effect on various oceanic ecosystems, such as coral reefs. The direct effect is the coral bleaching of these reefs, which live within a narrow temperature margin, so a small increase in temperature would have a drastic effect in these environments. Ocean acidification and temperature rise will also affect the productivity and distribution of species within the ocean, threatening fisheries and disrupting marine ecosystems. Loss of sea ice habitats due to warming will severely impact the many polar species which depend on this sea ice. Many of these climate change pressures interact, compounding the pressures on the climate system and on ocean ecosystems.[103]
A part of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2016 after a coral bleaching event
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.[110]

Ice and snow

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.[111] The rate of ice loss has risen by 57% since the 1990s−from 0.8 to 1.2 trillion tonnes per year.[111]

The cryosphere, the area of the Earth covered by snow or ice, is extremely sensitive to changes in global climate.[112] 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.[101][needs update] During the 21st century, snow cover is projected to continue its retreat in almost all regions.[113]

Glaciers and ice sheets decline

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a widespread retreat of glaciers.[114] The melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will continue to contribute to sea level rise over long time-scales.[115] The Greenland ice sheet loss is mainly driven by melt from the top, whereas Antarctic ice loss is driven by warm ocean water melting the outlet glaciers.[116] Research on Antarctica published in 2022, including the first map of iceberg calving, doubles the previous estimates of loss from ice shelves.[117][118]

Future melt of the West Antarctic ice sheet is potentially abrupt under a high emission scenario, as a consequence of a partial collapse.[119] 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.[120] 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.[119]

In contrast to the West Antarctic ice sheet, melt of the Greenland ice sheet is projected to be taking place more gradually over millennia.[119] 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.[121] 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.[122]

Sea ice changes

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.[123] 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.[124]

Arctic sea ice decline

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.[125][126] 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.[127] 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.[128] The Arctic will likely become ice-free at the end of some summers before 2050.[116]: 9 

Sea ice changes in Antarctica

The annual mean Antarctic sea ice area is not showing a clear downwards or upwards trend over the period of reliable satellite data starting in 1979.[116]: 1251  There are remaining uncertainties on how to interpret this data due to the limited observational records and discrepancies between modelled and observed results for the sea ice cover.[116]: 1253 

Increase in sea level can damage infrastructure and destroy homes in cities and low-lying coastal regions.

Low Lying Costal Region

Sea level rise is a growing issue for coastal areas. Due to low elevation and increasing temperatures, cities are at great risk of being flooded. The population, area, and tree species will be affected and consequently city infrastructure will face severe damage as well, which will result in failures and destruction of critical infrastructure, immobilization due to transportation system breakdowns, blackouts, and salinity increasing in water supplies.[129] Cities are robust and have numerous important infrastructures and are known for their great buildings, however, due to inland flooding and high levels of precipitation can cause erosion and damage to the infrastructures. Furthermore, the continuing sea-level rise will cause the loss of soil storage capacity due to extreme flooding which can impact soil quality and tree health. "When the water level is high it allows the waves and the erosion process to act farther up on the beach profile, causing a readjustment and resulting in a net erosion of the beach."[129]

Permafrost thawing

The southern part of the Arctic region (home to 4 million people) has experienced a temperature rise of 1 °C to 3 °C (1.8 °F to 5.4 °F) over the last 50 years.[130] 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.[131] Eastern Siberia's permafrost is gradually disappearing in the southern regions, leading to the loss of nearly 11% of Siberia's nearly 11,000 lakes since 1971.[132] 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.

Arctic permafrost has been diminishing for decades. Globally, permafrost warmed by about 0.3 °C between 2007 and 2016, with stronger warming observed in the continuous permafrost zone relative to the discontinuous zone.[133]: 1280  The consequence is thawing soil, which may be weaker, and release of methane, which contributes to an increased rate of global warming as part of a feedback loop caused by microbial decomposition.[134][135] Wetlands drying out from drainage or evaporation compromises the ability of plants and animals to survive.[134] When permafrost continues to diminish, many climate change scenarios will be amplified. In areas where permafrost is high, nearby human infrastructure may be damaged severely by the thawing of permafrost.[136][137] It is believed that carbon storage in permafrost globally is approximately 1600 gigatons; equivalent to twice the atmospheric pool.[138]

Wildlife and nature

Recent warming has strongly affected natural biological systems.[11] Species worldwide are moving poleward to colder areas. On land, species may move to higher elevations, whereas marine species find colder water at greater depths.[12] 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.[139]

The impacts of climate change in nature and nature's contributions to humans are projected to become more pronounced in the next few decades.[140] 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.[141][142][143] 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.[12] 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.[144]

Climate change threatens the health and survival of urban trees and the various benefits they deliver to urban inhabitants. Natural and urban ecosystems are already impacted by climate change, resulting in suboptimal tree growth and increased mortality. Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme events such as heatwaves, fire and drought which contribute to extensive tree dieback and mortality globally.[145]

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.[146]

Ecosystems on land

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.[147] In other ecosystems, land-use change may be a stronger driver of biodiversity loss, at least in the near-term.[147] Beyond the year 2050, climate change may be the major driver for biodiversity loss globally.[147] 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.[148] Between 1% and 50% of species in different groups were assessed to be at substantially higher risk of extinction due to climate change.[13]

Urban development and population contributes to climate change through factors such as pollution, deforestation, habitat destruction, and spread of disease. Scientists have linked these changes to a decrease in biodiversity in urban regions as a result of human interference. Ecologists Limburg and Schmidt found that there is a higher water temperature and temperature change in urban environments compared to non urban environments.[15] Moreover, most major cities are found along costal zones and are home to a number of diverse species. Urbanization through building structures and city design like flood defenses in turn impact biodiversity. Storm flooding and costal erosion in these regions can lead to more water pollution, such as finding metals and ammonia in stream water, can lead to a decline in aquatic biota. Climate change also affects the amount of precipitation annually and seasonally; a reduction in the amount of snowfall in the winter months affects the spring vegetation and overall health of plants.[15]

Nest of western snowy plover in the sand. Without adequate sand dunes, this species will not be able to reproduce.[149]

Research shows that the growing season is getting longer each year throughout Europe.[15] Bird populations in London, such as the Grey Heron, have increased due to better water quality and more temperate winters.[15] Migratory patterns of birds and insects in London such as the swallow and orange tip butterfly have been noticed earlier as well due to an increase in spring temperature.[15] In water, wetland organisms sensitive to changes in river flow as a result of climate change have also changed migratory patterns southeast or northeast of England.[15] In Florida, the lower keys marsh rabbit is endangered due to rising sea levels. This species is native to Florida's marshes however, rising sea levels have caused the rabbits to relocate inwards where urbanization has taken over.[150] Due to the effects of rising sea level and urbanization, there is very little habitat remaining for the marsh rabbit to thrive. Similarly, the snowy plover exclusively reproduces in sand dunes yet, rising sea levels disrupts the natural breeding spot for this bird.[150] Without having an adequate area to breed, the snowy plover also remains as one of Florida's threatened species.

While urbanization in New Zealand is thriving, researchers are noticing a negative effect on the island's biodiversity. Research done in Wellington, New Zealand showed that the effects of climate change in conjunction with their rapid growth is affecting plant and animal life.[151] Natural habitats are getting smaller and smaller, reducing the opportunity for certain plants to survive. Alongside this, researchers are noticing that with an increase in temperature, predation and invasive species are becoming more common.[151] Researchers advise introducing more pest-free urban wildlife sanctuaries as they have seen success with them on the island in the past.[151] Doing this would ensure that highly important native animals, like the kererū and tūī, are conserved while keeping invasive species out, ultimately preserving New Zealand's biodiversity in the face of climate change.[151]

Amazon rainforest

The rate of global tree cover loss has approximately doubled since 2001, to an annual loss approaching an area the size of Italy.[152]

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.[153][154][155]

Marine ecosystems

Marine heatwaves have seen an increased frequency and have widespread impacts on life in the oceans, such as mass dying events and coral bleaching.[156] Harmful algae blooms have increased in response to warming waters, loss of oxygen and eutrophication.[157] 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.[146] Melting sea ice destroys habitat, including for algae that grows on its underside.[158] It is likely that the oceans warmed faster between 1993 and 2017 compared to the period starting in 1969.[159]

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.[14] 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 the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.[160]

Urban planning and landscaping also increases levels of nitrates into water bodies, affecting organisms that occupy those ecosystems.[161] Excess nitrate levels are found in fertilizer; once water becomes contaminated with nitrates and makes its way into a body of water. This provides an ideal environment for algal blooms to form. These blooms over consume oxygen and block sunlight, ultimately causing fish casualties.[161]

Tipping points and irreversible impacts

Self-reinforcing feedbacks amplify climate change.[162] 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 forests.[163][164] Tipping points are studied using data from Earth's distant past and by physical modelling.[163] 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.[165]

Tipping points are "perhaps the most 'dangerous' aspect of future climate changes", leading to irreversible impacts on society.[166] Many tipping points are interlinked, so that triggering one may lead to a cascade of effects,[167] even well below 2 °C of warming.[168] 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.[169][170]

There are a number of climate change impacts on the environment that may be irreversible, at least over the timescale of many human generations.[171] These include the large-scale singularities such as the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, and changes to the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation.[171] In biological systems, the extinction of species would be an irreversible impact.[171] In social systems, unique cultures may be lost[171] or the survival of endangered languages may be exacerbated due to climate change.[172] 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.[173][172]

Health, food security and water security

Simplified conceptual causal loop diagram of cascading global climate failure,[174] related to the concept of One Health


The effects of climate change on human health include direct effects of extreme weather, leading to injury and loss of life,[175] as well as indirect effects, such as undernutrition brought on by crop failures or a lack of access to safe drinking water.[176] Climate change poses a wide range of risks to population health.[177] The three main categories of health risks include: (i) direct-acting effects (e.g. due to heat waves, extreme weather disasters), (ii) impacts mediated via climate-related changes in ecological systems and relationships (e.g. crop yields, mosquito ecology, marine productivity), and (iii) the more diffuse (indirect) consequences relating to impoverishment, displacement, and mental health problems.

More specifically, the relationship between health and heat (increased global temperatures) includes the following aspects:[178] exposure of vulnerable populations to heatwaves, heat-related mortality, impacts on physical activity and labour capacity and mental health. There is a range of climate-sensitive infectious diseases which may increase in some regions, such as mosquito-borne diseases, diseases from vibrio pathogens, cholera and some waterborne diseases.[178] Health is also acutely impacted by extreme weather events (floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires) through injuries, diseases and air pollution in the case of wildfires. Other health impacts from climate change include migration and displacement due rising sea levels; food insecurity and undernutrition,[178] reduced availability of drinking water, increased harmful algal blooms in oceans and lakes and increased ozone levels as an additional air pollutant during heatwaves.[179] Available evidence on the effect of climate change on the epidemiology of snakebite is limited but it is expected that there will be a geographic shift in risk of snakebite: northwards in North America and southwards in South America and in Mozambique, and increase in incidence of bite in Sri Lanka.[180]

Effects of Climate Change on Mental Health

Hurricane Katrina photos (4420569357).jpg

According to Deutchs Arzteblatt International many studies have highlighted the risk of mental illness being higher in cities than in rural areas.[181] The world is already facing the effects of climate change and is said to continue to experience the various impacts of climate change on mental health causing mental health to be a growing concern. Physical health impacts such as air quality and respiratory illness, injury from extreme weather conditions, spread of vector borne disease s are due to the effects of climate change. These health impacts are burdened mostly on low-income or vulnerable populations.[182] Furthermore, extreme weather conditions cause interferences in social, economic, and environmental determinants, and cause distress about the future all leading to health and mental health problems. The rising temperature can lead to an increase in sea levels and an increase in natural disasters leading resulting in cities and communities being heavily impacted. The responses during these events are acute traumatic stress which is alleviated after conditions are stable and safe, but also many face Post traumatic stress disorder that can affect and trigger depression, anxiety, and fear their whole life causing health problems.[182] Some studies have also explained how sea level rising, heavy precipitation, and coastal flooding can cause gastrointestinal illness.[183] A research on community effected by Hurricane Katrina showed high rates of depression, domestic violence, suicide attempts, and cases of PTSD.[182] Due to displacement, loss of employment, and infrastructure damage many experienced stress increasing cases of abuse and violence on both adults and children.

Increase in seasonal allergies due to Climate change

The genus Ambrosia that consists of A artemisiifolia and A trifida which causes allergic rhinitis.

Urban areas are also a hotspot for the impacts of climate change has caused temperatures and CO2 levels to increase. A highly controlled experiment by Zika and Caulfield illustrated the increase of CO2 causing an increase in photosynthesis, vegetative growth, and pollen production.[184] The genus Ambrosia that consists of A artemisiifolia and A trifida which causes allergic rhinitis increasing seasonal allergies. During various experiments done to find the correlation between climate change in urban areas, the growth response of ragweed occurred 3–4 days earlier in urban sites and above ground biomass increased by 8%-10% at semi-rural sites, 61%-66% in the suburban sites in 2000-2001 and by 189% at the urban site in 2001.[184] Subsequently, earlier pollen shed at urbanized sites. Climate change caused varying production rates of pollen in different areas. In cities rising temperatures and CO2 levels caused to show a relation between climate change and exposure to pollen due to increased biomass of ragweed plants that cause allergies.

Food security

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.[185] Droughts result in crop failures and the loss of pasture for livestock.[186] Loss and poor growth of livestock cause milk yield and meat production to decrease.[187] The rate of soil erosion is 10–20 times higher than the rate of soil accumulation in agricultural areas that use no-till farming. In areas with tilling it is 100 times higher. Climate change makes this type of land degradation and desertification worse.[188]

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.[189] For example, climate change is already affecting the productivity of wheat and other key staples.[190][191] The availability, quality and stability of wines are impacted by shifts in temperature affecting the traditional range and practices of viniculture, and by smoke taint from extreme fire events.[192]

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.[3]: 12  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.[193]

Water security

Between 1.5 and 2.5 billion people live in areas with regular water security issues. If global warming would reach 4 °C, water insecurity would affect about twice as many people.[194] Water resources are projected to decrease in most dry subtropical regions and mid-latitudes, but increase in high latitudes. However, as streamflow becomes more variable, even regions with increased water resources can experience additional short-term shortages.[195] The arid regions of India, China, the US and Africa are already seeing dry spells and drought impact water availability.[194]

Water resources can be affected by climate change in various ways. The total amount of freshwater available can change, for instance due to dry spells or droughts. Heavy rainfall and flooding can have an impact on water quality: pollutants can be transported into water bodies by the increased surface runoff. In coastal regions, more salt may find its way into water resources due to higher sea levels and more intense storms. Higher temperatures also directly degrade water quality: warm water contains less oxygen.[194]

Water-related impacts from climate change impact people's water security on a day-to-day basis. They include: increased frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation, accelerated melting of glaciers, changes in frequency, magnitude, and timing of floods; more frequent and severe droughts in some places; decline in groundwater storage, and reduction in groundwater recharge and water quality deterioration due to extreme events.[196]: 4–8  Water resources can be affected by climate change in various ways. The total amount of locally available freshwater available can change, for instance due to dry spells or droughts. There can also be reduced water quality due to the effects of climate change.

Global climate change is "likely to increase the complexity and costs of ensuring water security".[197] It creates new threats and adaptation challenges.[198] This is because climate change leads to increased hydrological variability and extremes. Climate change has many impacts on the water cycle, resulting in higher climatic and hydrological variability, which means that water security will be compromised.[199]: vII  Changes in the water cycle threaten existing water infrastructure and make it harder to plan future investments that can cope with uncertain changes in hydrologic variability.[198] This makes societies more vulnerable to extreme water-related events and therefore increases water insecurity.[199]: vII 

Economic impacts

The distribution of warming impacts from emitters has been unequal, with high-income, high-emitting countries benefitting while harming low-income, low-emitting countries.[200]

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.[201]

Global losses reveal rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather events since the 1970s.[41] Socio-economic factors have contributed to the observed trend of global losses, such as population growth and increased wealth.[202] 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.[203] The trend does, however, suggest increasing vulnerability of social systems to climate change.[203]

Economic inequality

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

Climate change has contributed towards global economic inequality. Wealthy countries in colder regions have 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.[204][205]

The total economic impacts from climate change are difficult to estimate, but increase for higher temperature changes.[206] 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.[207] 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.[207] In the Oxford Economics high emission scenario, a temperature rise of 2 degrees by 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.[208]

Most affected sectors apart from agriculture and fisheries

Thermal power stations (fossil fuel plants and nuclear power plants) 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.[209] Changes in the amount of river flow 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. 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.[209]

Oil and natural gas infrastructure is affected by the effects of climate change and the increased risk of disasters such as storm, cyclones, flooding and rising sea levels.[210]

New Orleans submerged after Hurricane Katrina, September 2005

Insurance is an important tool to manage risks, but often unavailable to poorer households. Due to climate change, premiums are going up for certain types of insurance, such as flood insurance. Poor adaptation to climate change further widens the gap between what people can afford and the costs of insurance, as risks increase.[211] In 2019, Munich Re noted that climate change could cause home insurance to become unaffordable for households at or below average incomes.[212]

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.[213][better source needed]

Impacts on societies

Climate change impacts health, the availability of drinking water and food, inequality and economic growth. The effects of climate change are often interlinked and can exacerbate each other as well as existing vulnerabilities.[214][215][216] The impacts are often exacerbated by related environmental disruptions and pressures such as pollution and biodiversity loss.[217][better source needed] Some areas may become too hot for humans to live in.[218][219] People in some areas may experience internal or long-distance displacement (and thus become climate refugees) triggered by climate change related changes or disasters.

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" or "climate crisis".[220][221] Some climate researchers[222][223] and activists[224] have called it an "existential threat to civilization".

Displacement and migration

Overlap between future population distribution and extreme heat[174]

Climate change affects displacement of people in several ways. Firstly, involuntary displacement may increase through the increased number and severity of weather-related disasters which destroy homes and habitats. 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. On the other hand, some households may fall (further) into poverty due to climate change, limiting their ability to move to areas less affected.[225]

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.[226][227] The United Nations says there are already 64 million migrants in the world fleeing wars, hunger, persecution and the effects of global warming.[228] 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.[229][230]

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.[231]

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".[232]

Some Pacific Ocean island nations, such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Maldives,[233] are considering the eventual possibility of evacuation, as flood defense may become economically unrealistic.

The two broad sets of potential interventions are climate change mitigation and building "greater capacity within vulnerable populations so that they may adapt through means that do not lead to distress migration or conflict".[234] There are various reasons for why, especially large-scale- or distant-source-,[additional citation(s) needed] migration is often widely undesired and opposed in both (or either) host and origin countries, such as shortage of housing,[235] cultural identity or cohesion[236] or sovereignty, and economics-related reasons.

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.[231]

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.[237] Migration related to desertification and reduced soil fertility is likely to be predominantly from rural areas in developing countries to towns and cities.[238]


Overlap between state fragility, extreme heat, and nuclear and biological catastrophic hazards[174]

Climate change can worsen conflicts by exacerbating tensions over limited resources like drinking water (in the case of water conflicts). Climate change also has the potential to cause large population dislocations and migration, which can also lead to increased tensions.[239][240] However, factors other than climate change are judged to be substantially more important in affecting conflict. These factors include intergroup inequality and low socio-economic development.[241] In some cases, climate change can even lead to more peaceful relationships between groups, as environmental problems requires common policy to be developed.[242]

Global warming has been described as a "threat multiplier".[243] Certain conditions make it more likely that climate change impacts conflict: ethnic exclusion, an economy dependent on agriculture, insufficient infrastructure, poor local governance, and low levels of development.[242] A spike in wheat prices following crop losses from a period of drought may have contributed to the onset of the "Arab Spring" protests and revolutions in 2010.[244][242]

Social impacts on vulnerable groups

The impacts of climate change on humans 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. The following more vulnerable groups have been identified:

  • People living in poverty: Climate change disproportionally affects poor people in low-income communities and developing countries around the world. Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects of climate change due to the increased exposure and vulnerability.[245] A 2020 World Bank paper estimated that between 32 million to 132 million additional people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 due to climate change.[246]
  • Women: Climate change increases gender inequality,[247] reduces women's ability to be financially independent,[248] and has an overall negative impact on the social and political rights of women, especially in economies that are heavily based on agriculture.[247]
  • Indigenous peoples: Indigenous communities geographically tend to be located in regions more vulnerable to climate change such as native rainforests, the Arctic, and coastal areas.[249] Indigenous communities across the globe generally have economic disadvantages that are not as prevalent in non-indigenous communities due to the ongoing oppression they have experienced. These disadvantages include lower education levels and higher rates of poverty and unemployment, which add to their vulnerability to climate change.[250]
  • Children: The Lancet review on health and climate change lists children as the worst-affected category by climate change.[251] Children are also 14–44 percent more likely to die from environmental factors,[252] again leaving them the most vulnerable. Those in urban areas will be affected by lower air quality and overcrowding, and will struggle the most to better their situation.[253]
  • Racial minorities: The environmental justice (EJ) movement and climate justice (CJ) movement address environmental racism in bringing attention and enacting change so that marginalized populations are not disproportionately vulnerable to climate change and pollution.[254][255]

Human settlements

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.[256] Depending on regional changes, increased precipitation patterns can cause more flooding or extended drought stresses water resources.

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.[257][258] The cities that are on the low-lying coastal regions in Asia, the rate at which their population is increasing is 140,000 per day with the prediction of the weather which will increase to 4 degree Celsius by the end of the century and sea levels which would rise by 1 meter by 2100.[259]

In small islands and megadeltas, inundation as a result of sea level rise is expected to threaten vital infrastructure and human settlements.[260][261] This could lead to issues of statelessness for populations in countries such as the Maldives and Tuvalu[262] and homelessness in countries with low-lying areas such as Bangladesh. In 1991, 140,000 people died and the 10 million became homeless when the floods hit Bangladesh. In Myanmar, the storm killed 146,000 people which was hit in 2007.[259]

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.[263][264]

Increased extreme heat exposure from both climate change and the urban heat island effect threatens urban settlements.[265]

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.[266][267] Low-latitude, less-developed regions are at most risk of experiencing negative impacts due to climate change.[18]

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.[268] 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.[269][270][271]

Low-lying coastal regions

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.

Socioeconomic impacts of climate change in coastal and low-lying areas will be overwhelmingly adverse. The following impacts were projected in 2007 with very high confidence:[272]

  • Coastal and low-lying areas would be exposed to increasing risks including coastal erosion due to climate change and sea level rise.
  • By the 2080s, millions of people would experience floods every year due to sea level rise. The numbers affected were projected to be largest in the densely populated and low-lying mega-deltas of Asia and Africa; and smaller islands were judged to be especially vulnerable.

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,[273] to 300 million or even 640 million in a worst-case scenario related to the instability of the Antarctic ice sheet.[274][275] The most people affected are in the densely-populated and low-lying megadeltas of Asia and Africa.[276]

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.[277]

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.[278] Low-lying small islands in the Pacific, Indian, and Caribbean regions are at risk of permanent inundation and population displacement.[279][280][281] On the islands of Fiji, Tonga and western Samoa, concentrations of migrants from outer islands inhabit low and unsafe areas along the coasts.[281]

Atoll nations, which include countries that are composed entirely of the smallest form of islands, called motus, are at risk of entire population displacement.[282][279] These nations include Kiribati, Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Tokelau, and Tuvalu.[279][280] Vulnerability is increased by small size, isolation from other land, low financial resources, and lack of protective infrastructure.[279]

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.[283] 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.[282][279] 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.[282][283]

Possibility of societal collapse

Several researchers have suggested that collapse of the current societal organization – the contemporary global, interconnected civilization – could occur at 3 degrees of warming, especially when considering that climate change is not the only environmental pressure and challenge humanity faces.[284][285][286]

Overlap between state fragility, extreme heat, and nuclear and biological catastrophic hazards[174]
Severe impacts of climate change can combine, including with climate-unrelated, concurrent risks such as worldwide pollution, fragility, resource depletion, political disenchantment, poverty or wealth inequality, and biotechnology risk, to result in a confluence of developments that cause a drastically aggravated impact on societies or humanity – such or multiple concurrent crises are sometimes referred to as a "perfect storm".[287][288] Climate change may also be considered as a threat multiplier "which exacerbates existing trends, tensions, and instability".[289] Climate-related factors of a potential collapse may include famine (crop loss, drought), extreme weather (hurricanes, floods), war ([co-]caused by scarce resources) and conflict, systemic risk (relating to migration, famine, or conflict), and disease.[174]

In 2022, researchers around the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk reported that the risk of climate change (indirectly) resulting in worldwide societal collapse, or possibly eventual human extinction, is a "dangerously underexplored" global topic, despite there being indications of such being possible as worst-case scenarios and that "integrated catastrophe assessment" is missing.[290][174]

Human impacts as rationale for mitigation

There is a misconception that climate change mitigation primarily is about conservation of nature (e.g. due to "love of nature"[291][292]) or the protection of the planet (which has experienced several mass extinction events) or an external environment – instead the primary rationale or intended effects and purpose of climate change mitigation is suggested to be protection of humans (from suffering, reduced quality of life and earlier death) and of sustained human civilization (e.g. national security) or, broadly, to enable a just future for all on a thriving planet which humans not only often value but also depend upon. It has been described as protection of humanity rather than protection of the climate.[293][294][295][additional citation(s) needed]

See also


  1. ^ "The Causes of Climate Change". NASA. Archived from the original on 21 December 2019.
  2. ^ "Climate Science Special Report / Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), Volume I". U.S. Global Change Research Program. Archived from the original on 14 December 2019.
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