Climate change is already altering everything, from fertility choices to insuring our homes

Factory producing smoke during sunset. Climate change is already changing the way many of us live or think.

Climate change is already changing the way many of us live or think. Image:  Unsplash/Alexander Tsang

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Stay up to date:, climate change.

  • Climate change is already affecting people’s lives in a variety of ways.
  • Global warming is the biggest health threat facing humanity, the World Health Organization says.
  • It’s also making people rethink family planning choices and putting properties at risk of becoming uninsurable.
  • Disruptions to supply chains because of extreme weather are shaking the global economy.

How is climate change affecting you?

You may think the biggest impacts lie far away – in terms of time or geography. But global warming is already changing the way many of us live or think.

1. Health suffers because of climate change

Climate change is the biggest health threat facing humanity , the World Health Organization says, estimating that it will cause around a quarter of a million additional deaths each year in 2030-50. These will mainly be from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

However, climate change is already having more subtle effects on health and wellbeing. Spring is beginning earlier in many places, meaning there’s a higher pollen count. This is bad news for allergy sufferers. Higher temperatures in the United States made the pollen season 11-27 days longer between 1995 and 2011, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says.

Rising temperatures also contribute to worsening air quality, which can increase the risk and severity of asthma attacks .

Vulnerabilities and health risks of climate change.

2. Climate change is raising the cost of living

COVID-19 has received most of the blame for recent global supply chain problems, but climate change is also having an impact. When supply chains are shaken, this impacts the availability and cost of goods.

Freezing weather in Texas in February 2021 triggered the United States’ most severe energy blackout of all time, leading to shutdowns at three major semiconductor plants and adding to the global shortage of microchips.

The cost of living is also soaring because of the global surge in energy prices. While Russia’s war on Ukraine is driving much of this now, climate change is also a factor.

“ Companies face up to $120 billion in costs from environmental risks in their supply chains by 2026,” according to research published in 2021 by CDP, a nonprofit that runs the world's largest environmental disclosure system. This will include increased costs for raw materials, and because of regulatory changes such as carbon pricing as the world addresses environmental crises, the report says.

In 2021, more than 20% of American adults lived in households unable to pay their utility bills .

3. Warming oceans are threatening our way of life

Sea level rises could pose the biggest threat to global supply chains , potentially putting ports and coastal infrastructure out of action. Higher sea temperatures may also cause more severe storms in tropical parts of the world, posing a threat to life and infrastructure.

The sea is home to most of our biodiversity, and 3 billion people globally rely on it for their livelihoods, according to the UN. However, carbon emissions from human activity are causing ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss , putting large numbers of marine-related jobs at risk, it says.

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

4. People might have fewer babies

People are increasingly citing the climate crisis as a major reason why they may decide to have fewer or even no children. According to a study in the United States, a third of women said they will reduce their anticipated family size because of it.

Percentages of people who's fertility decisions have been impacted by climate change factors.

However a similar number of the more than 2,800 American women surveyed by Modernfertility.com said the issue has made them decide to have children sooner . The study says this is because it’s either made them focus more on what’s important to them or given them a sense of urgency.

5. Your property could become uninsurable

Insurance is something that nearly everyone has, but climate change poses a “systemic risk” to the sector, according to professional services company Grant Thornton.

Extreme weather events led to insured losses of $105 billion in 2021 , the fourth-highest level since 1970, according to preliminary estimates by Swiss Re, one of the world's leading providers of reinsurance and insurance.

This not only potentially makes insurance more expensive for everyone, but it also means some assets could become uninsurable . One in 25 Australian homes could be uninsurable by 2030 , according to the Climate Council.

6. Increased chance of another pandemic

Climate change makes new pandemics more likely, because as temperatures increase, wild animals will be forced to change habitats. This could lead to them living nearer to human populations, increasing the chances of a virus jumping between species and causing the next pandemic, according to a report published by the scientific journal Nature.

“Geographic range shifts” will mean mammals encounter each other for the first time, and in doing so will share thousands of viruses, the report says. Even keeping global warming under 2°C this century “will not reduce future viral sharing”, the scientists note.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about fighting pandemics?

The first human trial of a COVID-19 vaccine was administered this week.

CEPI, launched at the World Economic Forum, provided funding support for the Phase 1 study. The organization this week announced their seventh COVID-19 vaccine project in the fight against the pandemic.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched in 2017 at the Forum's Annual Meeting – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and to enable access to these vaccines during outbreaks.

Coalitions like CEPI are made possible through public-private partnerships. The World Economic Forum is the trusted global platform for stakeholder engagement, bringing together a range of multistakeholders from business, government and civil society to improve the state of the world.

Organizations can partner with the Forum to contribute to global health solutions. Contact us to find out how.

The World Economic Forum is committed to helping limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to stave off catastrophe. It aims to work with leaders to increase climate commitments, collaborate with partners to develop private initiatives, and provide a platform for innovators to realize their ambition and contribute solutions.

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Why climate change is still the greatest threat to human health

Polluted air and steadily rising temperatures are linked to health effects ranging from increased heart attacks and strokes to the spread of infectious diseases and psychological trauma.

People around the world are witnessing firsthand how climate change can wreak havoc on the planet. Steadily rising average temperatures fuel increasingly intense wildfires, hurricanes, and other disasters that are now impossible to ignore. And while the world has been plunged into a deadly pandemic, scientists are sounding the alarm once more that climate change is still the greatest threat to human health in recorded history .

As recently as August—when wildfires raged in the United States, Europe, and Siberia—World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement that “the risks posed by climate change could dwarf those of any single disease.”

On September 5, more than 200 medical journals released an unprecedented joint editorial that urged world leaders to act. “The science is unequivocal,” they write. “A global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.”

Despite the acute dangers posed by COVID-19, the authors of the joint op-ed write that world governments “cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.” Instead, they argue, everyone must treat climate change with the same urgency as they have COVID-19.

Here’s a look at the ways that climate change can affect your health—including some less obvious but still insidious effects—and why scientists say it’s not too late to avert catastrophe.

Air pollution

Climate change is caused by an increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, mostly from fossil fuel emissions. But burning fossil fuels can also have direct consequences for human health. That’s because the polluted air contains small particles that can induce stroke and heart attacks by penetrating the lungs and heart and even traveling into the bloodstream. Those particles might harm the organs directly or provoke an inflammatory response from the immune system as it tries to fight them off. Estimates suggest that air pollution causes anywhere between 3.6 million and nine million premature deaths a year.

“The numbers do vary,” says Andy Haines , professor of environmental change and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and author of the recently published book Planetary Health . “But they all agree that it’s a big public health burden.”

Family has dinner in flooded home in Central Java, Indonesia.

People over the age of 65 are most susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution, but many others are at risk too, says Kari Nadeau , director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University. People who smoke or vape are at increased risk, as are children with asthma.

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Air pollution also has consequences for those with allergies. Carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the air, which then pulls more pollen out from plants. For some people, this might just mean that they face annoyingly long bouts of seasonal allergies. But for others, it could be life-threatening.

“For people who already have respiratory disease, boy is that a problem,” Nadeau says. When pollen gets into the respiratory pathway, the body creates mucus to get rid of it, which can then fill up and suffocate the lungs.

Even healthy people can have similar outcomes if pollen levels are especially intense. In 2016, in the Australian state of Victoria, a severe thunderstorm combined with high levels of pollen to induce what The Lancet has described as “the world’s largest and most catastrophic epidemic of thunderstorm asthma.” So many residents suffered asthma attacks that emergency rooms were overwhelmed—and at least 10 people died as a result.

Climate change is also causing wildfires to get worse, and wildfire smoke is especially toxic. As one recent study showed, fires can account for 25 percent of dangerous air pollution in the U.S. Nadeau explains that the smoke contains particles of everything that the fire has consumed along its path—from rubber tires to harmful chemicals. These particles are tiny and can penetrate even deeper into a person’s lungs and organs. ( Here’s how breathing wildfire smoke affects the body .)

Extreme heat

Heat waves are deadly, but researchers at first didn’t see direct links between climate change and the harmful impacts of heat waves and other extreme weather events. Haines says the evidence base has been growing. “We have now got a number of studies which has shown that we can with high confidence attribute health outcomes to climate change,” he says.

Workers pick tomatoes in hot weather in California.

Most recently, Haines points to a study published earlier this year in Nature Climate Change that attributes more than a third of heat-related deaths to climate change. As National Geographic reported at the time , the study found that the human toll was even higher in some countries with less access to air conditioning or other factors that render people more vulnerable to heat. ( How climate change is making heat waves even deadlier .)

That’s because the human body was not designed to cope with temperatures above 98.6°F, Nadeau says. Heat can break down muscles. The body does have some ways to deal with the heat—such as sweating. “But when it’s hot outside all the time, you cannot cope with that, and your heart muscles and cells start to literally die and degrade,” she says.

If you’re exposed to extreme heat for too long and are unable to adequately release that heat, the stress can cause a cascade of problems throughout the body. The heart has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the organs, while sweat leeches the body of necessary minerals such as sodium and potassium. The combination can result in heart attacks and strokes .

Dehydration from heat exposure can also cause serious damage to the kidneys, which rely on water to function properly. For people whose kidneys are already beginning to fail—particularly older adults—Nadeau says that extreme heat can be a death sentence. “This is happening more and more,” she says.

Studies have also drawn links between higher temperatures and preterm birth and other pregnancy complications. It’s unclear why, but Haines says that one hypothesis is that extreme heat reduces blood flow to the fetus.

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Food insecurity.

One of the less direct—but no less harmful—ways that climate change can affect health is by disrupting the world’s supply of food.

Climate change both reduces the amount of food that’s available and makes it less nutritious.   According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report , crop yields have already begun to decline as a result of rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events. Meanwhile, studies have shown that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can leech plants of zinc, iron, and protein—nutrients that humans need to survive.

A woman walk through a sandstorm in Beijing, China.

Malnutrition is linked to a variety of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It can also increase the risk of stunting, or impaired growth , in children, which can harm cognitive function.

Climate change also imperils what we eat from the sea. Rising ocean temperatures have led many fish species to migrate toward Earth’s poles in search of cooler waters. Haines says that the resulting decline of fish stocks in subtropic regions “has big implications for nutrition,” because many of those coastal communities depend on fish for a substantial amount of the protein in their diets.

This effect is likely to be particularly harmful for Indigenous communities, says Tiff-Annie Kenny, a professor in the faculty of medicine at Laval University in Quebec who studies climate change and food security in the Canadian Arctic. It’s much more difficult for these communities to find alternative sources of protein, she says, either because it’s not there or because it’s too expensive. “So what are people going to eat instead?” she asks.

Infectious diseases  

As the planet gets hotter, the geographic region where ticks and mosquitoes like to live is getting wider. These animals are well-known vectors of diseases such as the Zika virus, dengue fever, and malaria. As they cross the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Nadeau says, mosquitoes and ticks bring more opportunities for these diseases to infect greater swaths of the world.

“It used to be that they stayed in those little sectors near the Equator, but now unfortunately because of the warming of northern Europe and Canada, you can find Zika in places you wouldn’t have expected,” Nadeau says.

In addition, climate conditions such as temperature and humidity can impact the life cycle of mosquitoes. Haines says there’s particularly good evidence showing that, in some regions, climate change has altered these conditions in ways that increase the risk of mosquitos transmitting dengue .

There are also several ways in which climate change is increasing the risk of diseases that can be transmitted through water, such as cholera, typhoid fever, and parasites. Sometimes that’s fairly direct, such as when people interact with dirty floodwaters. But Haines says that drought can have indirect impacts when people, say, can’t wash their hands or are forced to drink from dodgier sources of freshwater.

Mental health

A common result of any climate-linked disaster is the toll on mental health. The distress caused by drastic environmental change is so significant that it has been given its own name— solastalgia .

Solar and wind farms in western California.

Nadeau says that the effects on mental health have been apparent in her studies of emergency room visits arising from wildfires in the western U.S. People lose their homes, their jobs, and sometimes their loved ones, and that takes an immediate toll. “What’s the fastest acute issue that develops? It’s psychological,” she says. Extreme weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes cause so much stress and anxiety that they can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide in the long run.

Another common factor is that climate change causes disproportionate harm to the world’s most vulnerable people. On September 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an analysis showing that racial and ethnic minority communities are particularly at risk . According to the report, if temperatures rise by 2°C (3.6°F), Black people are 40 percent more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in related deaths. Another 34 percent are more likely to live in areas with a rise in childhood asthma.

Further, the effects of climate change don’t occur in isolation. At any given time, a community might face air pollution, food insecurity, disease, and extreme heat all at once. Kenny says that’s particularly devastating in communities where the prevalence of food insecurity and poverty are already high. This situation hasn’t been adequately studied, she says, because “it’s difficult to capture these shocks that climate can bring.”

Why there’s reason for hope

In recent years, scientists and environmental activists have begun to push for more research into the myriad health effects of climate change. “One of the striking things is there’s been a real dearth of funding for climate change and health,” Haines says. “For that reason, some of the evidence we have is still fragmentary.”

Still, hope is not lost. In the Paris Agreement, countries around the world have pledged to limit global warming to below 2°C (3.6°F)—and preferably to 1.5°C (2.7°F)—by cutting their emissions. “When you reduce those emissions, you benefit health as well as the planet,” Haines says.

Meanwhile, scientists and environmental activists have put forward solutions that can help people adapt to the health effects of climate change. These include early heat warnings and dedicated cooling centers, more resilient supply chains, and freeing healthcare facilities from dependence on the electric grid.

Nadeau argues that the COVID-19 pandemic also presents an opportunity for world leaders to think bigger and more strategically. For example, the pandemic has laid bare problems with efficiency and equity that have many countries restructuring their healthcare facilities. In the process, she says, they can look for new ways to reduce waste and emissions, such as getting more hospitals using renewable energy.

“This is in our hands to do,” Nadeau says. “If we don’t do anything, that would be cataclysmic.”

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ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

Global warming.

The causes, effects, and complexities of global warming are important to understand so that we can fight for the health of our planet.

Earth Science, Climatology

Tennessee Power Plant

Ash spews from a coal-fueled power plant in New Johnsonville, Tennessee, United States.

Photograph by Emory Kristof/ National Geographic

Ash spews from a coal-fueled power plant in New Johnsonville, Tennessee, United States.

Global warming is the long-term warming of the planet’s overall temperature. Though this warming trend has been going on for a long time, its pace has significantly increased in the last hundred years due to the burning of fossil fuels . As the human population has increased, so has the volume of fossil fuels burned. Fossil fuels include coal, oil, and natural gas, and burning them causes what is known as the “greenhouse effect” in Earth’s atmosphere.

The greenhouse effect is when the sun’s rays penetrate the atmosphere, but when that heat is reflected off the surface cannot escape back into space. Gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels prevent the heat from leaving the atmosphere. These greenhouse gasses are carbon dioxide , chlorofluorocarbons, water vapor , methane , and nitrous oxide . The excess heat in the atmosphere has caused the average global temperature to rise overtime, otherwise known as global warming.

Global warming has presented another issue called climate change. Sometimes these phrases are used interchangeably, however, they are different. Climate change refers to changes in weather patterns and growing seasons around the world. It also refers to sea level rise caused by the expansion of warmer seas and melting ice sheets and glaciers . Global warming causes climate change, which poses a serious threat to life on Earth in the forms of widespread flooding and extreme weather. Scientists continue to study global warming and its impact on Earth.

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Are the Effects of Global Warming Really that Bad?

Short answer: Yes. Even a seemingly slight average temperature rise is enough to cause a dramatic transformation of our planet.

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The Missouri River encroaches on homes in Sioux City, Iowa, during a 2011 flood

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Five and a half degrees Fahrenheit. It may not sound like much—perhaps the difference between wearing a sweater and not wearing one on an early-spring day. But for the world in which we live—which climate experts project will be at least 5.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by 2100 , relative to pre-industrial levels (1850–1900), should global emissions continue on their current path—this small rise will have grave consequences. These impacts are already becoming apparent for every ecosystem and living thing, including us.

Human influences are the number one cause of global warming , especially the carbon pollution we cause by burning fossil fuels and the pollution capture we prevent by destroying forests. The carbon dioxide, methane, soot, and other pollutants we release into the atmosphere act like a blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to warm. Evidence shows that the 2010s were hotter than any other decade on record —and every decade since the 1960s has averaged hotter than the previous one. This warming is altering the earth's climate system, including its land, atmosphere, oceans, and ice, in far-reaching ways.

More frequent and severe weather

Higher temperatures are worsening many types of disasters, including storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts. A warmer climate creates an atmosphere that can collect, retain, and unleash more water, changing weather patterns in such a way that wet areas become wetter and dry areas drier.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2021, there were 20 weather and climate disaster events in the United States—including severe storms, floods, drought, and wildfires—that individually caused at least $1 billion in losses . “Disasters in 2021 had a staggering total price tag of $145 billion—and that’s an underestimate because it excludes health damages,” says Vijay Limaye , senior scientist at NRDC. “These climate and weather disasters endanger people across the country throughout the entire year. In fact, more than 4 in 10 Americans live in a county that was struck by climate-related disasters in 2021.”

The increasing number of droughts, intense storms, and floods we're seeing as our warming atmosphere holds—and then dumps—more moisture poses risks to public health and safety too. Prolonged dry spells mean more than just scorched lawns. Drought conditions jeopardize access to clean drinking water, fuel out-of-control wildfires, and result in dust storms, extreme heat events, and flash flooding in the States. Elsewhere around the world, lack of water is a leading cause of death and serious disease and is contributing to crop failure. At the opposite end of the spectrum, heavier rains cause streams, rivers, and lakes to overflow, which damages life and property, contaminates drinking water, creates hazardous-material spills, and promotes mold infestation and unhealthy air. A warmer, wetter world is also a boon for foodborne and waterborne illnesses and disease-carrying insects, such as mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks.

Higher death rates

Today's scientists point to climate change as the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. It's a threat that impacts all of us—especially children, the elderly, low-income communities, and minorities—and in a variety of direct and indirect ways. As temperatures spike, so does the incidence of illness, emergency room visits, and death.

"There are more hot days in places where people aren't used to it," Limaye says. "They don't have air-conditioning or can't afford it. One or two days isn't a big deal. But four days straight where temperatures don't go down, even at night, leads to severe health consequences." In the United States, hundreds of heat-related deaths occur each year due to direct impacts and the indirect effects of heat-exacerbated, life-threatening illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases. Indeed, extreme heat kills more Americans each year, on average, than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and lightning combined.

Dirtier air

Rising temperatures also worsen air pollution by increasing ground-level ozone smog, which is created when pollution from cars, factories, and other sources react to sunlight and heat. Ground-level ozone is the main component of smog, and the hotter things get, the more of it we have. Dirtier air is linked to higher hospital admission rates and higher death rates for asthmatics. It worsens the health of people suffering from cardiac or pulmonary disease. And warmer temperatures also significantly increase airborne pollen , which is bad news for those who suffer from hay fever and other allergies.

Higher wildlife extinction rates

As humans, we face a host of challenges, but we're certainly not the only ones catching heat. As land and sea undergo rapid changes, the animals that inhabit them are doomed to disappear if they don't adapt quickly enough. Some will make it, and some won't. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report , the risk of species extinction increases steeply with rises in global temperature —with invertebrates (specifically pollinators) and flowering plants being some of the most vulnerable. Moreover, a 2015 study showed that vertebrate species (animals with backbones, like fish, birds, mammals , amphibians, and reptiles) are also disappearing more than 100 times faster than the natural rate of extinction, due to human-driven climate change, pollution, and deforestation.

More acidic oceans

The earth's marine ecosystems are under pressure as a result of climate change. Oceans are becoming more acidic, due in large part to their absorption of some of our excess emissions. As this acidification accelerates, it poses a serious threat to underwater life, particularly creatures with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, including mollusks, crabs, and corals. This can have a huge impact on shellfisheries . In total, the U.S. shellfish industry could lose more than $400 million annually by 2100 due to impacts of ocean acidification.

Higher sea levels

The polar regions are particularly vulnerable to a warming atmosphere. Average temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere on earth, and the world's ice sheets are melting fast. This not only has grave consequences for the region's people, wildlife, and plants; its most serious impact may be on rising sea levels. By 2100, it's estimated our oceans will be 1.6 to 6.6 feet higher, threatening coastal systems and low-lying areas, encompassing entire island nations and the world’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City, as well as Mumbai, India; Rio de Janeiro; and Sydney, Australia.

But this isn’t the end of the story

There’s no question: Unchecked climate change promises a frightening future, and it's too late to fully turn back the clock. We've already taken care of that by pumping a century's worth of pollution into the atmosphere. “Even if we stopped all carbon dioxide emissions tomorrow, we'd still see some dangerous effects,” Limaye says. That, of course, is the bad news.

But there's also good news. By aggressively reducing our global emissions now, “we can avoid a lot of the severe consequences that climate change would otherwise bring,” says Limaye. While change must happen at the highest levels of government and business, your voice matters too: to your friends, to your families, and to your community leaders. Together, we can envision a safer, healthier, more equitable future—and build toward it. You can join with millions of people around the world fighting climate change and even work to reduce fossil fuels in your own life .

This story was originally published on March 15, 2016, and has been updated with new information and links.

This NRDC.org story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

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  • Security Council

Climate Change ‘Biggest Threat Modern Humans Have Ever Faced’, World-Renowned Naturalist Tells Security Council, Calls for Greater Global Cooperation

Climate change is a “crisis multiplier” that has profound implications for international peace and stability, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council today, amid calls for deep partnerships within and beyond the United Nations system to blunt its acute effects on food security, natural resources and migration patterns fuelling tensions across countries and regions.

Throughout the morning, the Council’s high-level open debate on climate and security heard from a range of influential voices, including naturalist David Attenborough, who called climate change “the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced”.  In video remarks telecast at the outset, he warned that concentrations of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere have not been equalled for millions of years.

“If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security,” he said:  food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature and ocean food chains.  The poorest — those with the least security — are certain to suffer.  “Our duty right now is surely to do all we can to help those in the most immediate danger.”

While the world will never return to the stable climate that gave birth to civilization, he said that, if Governments attending the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November recognize climate change as a global security threat, “we may yet act proportionately — and in time”.

Climate change can only be dealt with by unparalleled levels of global cooperation, he said.  It will compel countries to question economic models, invent new industries and recognize the moral responsibility that wealthy nations have to the rest of the world, placing a value on nature that “goes far beyond money”.  He challenged the international community to finally create a stable, healthy world where resources are equally shared and where — for the first time in history — people “come to know what it feels like to be secure”.

Mr. Guterres echoed those calls, describing the climate emergency as “the defining issue of our time”.  Noting that the last decade was the hottest in human history, he said wildfires, cyclones, floods and droughts are now the new normal.  “These shocks not only damage the environment on which we depend, they also weaken our political, economic and social systems,” he said.

Indeed, where climate change dries up rivers, reduces harvests, destroys critical infrastructure and displaces communities, it exacerbates the risks of conflict, he said.  A study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that 8 of the 10 countries hosting the largest multilateral peace operations in 2018 were in areas highly exposed to climate change.

The impact is greatest where fragility and conflict have weakened coping mechanisms, he said, where people depend on natural capital for their livelihoods and where women — who bear the greatest burden of the climate emergency — do not enjoy equal rights.  He highlighted examples in Afghanistan, where reduced harvests have pushed people into poverty, leaving them susceptible to recruitment by armed groups, and across West Africa and the Sahel, where changes in grazing patterns have fostered conflict between pastoralists and farmers.  In some Pacific small island nations, entire communities have been forced to relocate.

“The forced movement of larger numbers of people around the world will clearly increase the potential for conflict and insecurity,” he observed.  He called for greater efforts to address climate‑related security risks, starting with a focus on prevention, and creating a global coalition committed to achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century.  The United Nations is asking companies, cities and financial institutions to prepare credible decarbonization plans.

In addition, immediate actions are needed to protect countries from increasingly frequent and severe climate effects.  He urged donors and multilateral and national development banks to increase the share of adaptation and resilience finance to at least 50 per cent of their climate finance support.  Developed countries, too, must keep their pledge to channel $100 billion annually to the global South.  “They have already missed the deadline of 2020,” he acknowledged.

Above all, he called for embracing a concept of security that places people at its centre, stressing that COVID-19 has laid bare the devastation that non‑traditional security threats can cause on a global scale.  In all such efforts, it will be essential to build on the strengths of the Security Council, Peacebuilding Commission, international financial institutions, regional organizations, civil society, the private sector, academia and others.

Issuing a call to action, Nisreen Elsaim, Chair of the Youth Organization on Climate Change and the United Nations Youth Advisory Group, said young people around the globe are watching the Security Council as it grapples with climate change.  Each of the organ’s four meetings on the issue — in 2007, 2011, 2018 and 2019 — have referenced serious climate-related security risks in Somalia, Darfur, West Africa and the Sahel, Mali and the Lake Chad Basin.  “Science has forecasted many more countries will join this list if we did not take the right measures now, and if we did not start adaptation specially in Africa,” she said, adding that, in her country, “we are living in continuous insecurity due to many factors that put Sudan on the top of the list when it comes to climate vulnerability”.

She recalled that, in a 2018 Council resolution on Sudan, members recognized the adverse effects of climate change, ecological changes and natural hazards on the situation in Darfur, focusing specifically on drought, desertification, land degradation and food insecurity.  “Human survival, in a situation of resources degradation, hunger, poverty and uncontrolled climate migration, will make conflict an inevitable result,” she said.  Moreover, climate-related emergencies cause major disruptions in access to health, life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, and result in loss of livelihoods and drive displacement and migration.  They also increase the risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices and force young people to flee in search of a decent life.

Welcoming the Council’s recent deployment of a new special political mission, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS), she said it has a historic opportunity to speak to the root causes of the conflict.  Climate change and youth participation is mentioned twice in the Mission’s mandate, and climate change challenges are included in the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement.  Emphasizing that young people must be part of the solution, she declared:  “We are the present, we have the future, let’s not repeat previous generations’ lapse.”

In the ensuing dialogue, Heads of State and Government, along with ministers and other senior officials described national actions to attenuate the negative impact of climate change and offered their views on the related security risks.  Some pressed the Council to broaden its thinking about non-traditional security threats.  Several — including leaders from Kenya and Niger — stressed that the link between climate and conflict could not be more evident, while others explored the ability of Governments to meet people’s basic needs, and still others cast doubt on the assertion that the relationship between climate and conflict is causal, instead pointing to political and economic factors that are known to drive tensions.

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, said the Council, while imperfect, has been willing to lead the way in confronting threats to international security.  “That is exactly what climate change represents,” he said, acknowledging that, while there are some who disagree, these cynics “could not be more wrong”.  While the causes of climate change may not sit within the Council’s traditional purview, its effects most certainly do.  He asked delegates to consider the young man forced onto the road when his once‑fertile home becomes a desert — one of the 16 million people displaced by weather-related disasters each year — who becomes easy prey for violent extremists, or the girl who drops out of school because her daily search for water takes her away from her family — and into the sights of the human traffickers.

“If such scenes were triggered by the actions of some despotic warlord or internecine conflict, few would question this Council’s right to act or its duty to do so,” he assured.  “This is not a subject from which we should shy away.”  The world must move from 51 billion metric tons of greenhouse‑gas emissions each year to net zero, so that the increase in global temperatures remains within manageable levels.  For its part, the United Kingdom Parliament passed a law committing to net zero by 2050, he said, drawing attention to his pledge that the nation would slash emissions by 68 per cent by 2030.  He urged the Council to act, “because climate change is a geopolitical issue every bit as much as an environmental one”, stressing that, if it is to succeed in maintaining peace and security worldwide, it must galvanize and support the United Nations family of agencies into a swift and effective response.

Kaïs Saïed, President of Tunisia , agreed with Ms. Elsaim that the world must listen to youth on climate change.  More broadly, humans — and not money — must be placed at the centre of the issue.  Voicing support for the Secretary-General’s 2021 priorities, especially his efforts to galvanize Member States to confront the multiple impacts of climate change, he described it as ironic that humans are, at the same time, the phenomenon’s drivers and its greatest victims.  “It is no one’s right to […] to commit all of humanity to death,” he stressed, noting that Council resolution 2532 (2020) confirmed that insecurity can be driven by a multitude of factors, not just armed conflict.  One such driver is the deepening poverty and resource scarcity resulting from a changing climate, particularly in Africa.  Climate factors often prolong conflict and create conditions conducive to deprivation, exclusion, terrorism and organized crime.

Calling on the Council to adopt a new, more comprehensive approach and for sufficient resources for all specialized agencies related to climate change, he underlined the need for early warning systems and better prevention strategies.  Noting that the COVID-19 pandemic and other recent crises have once again revealed the need for States to strengthen their solidarity, he emphasized the need for prompt action while stressing that the burden borne by States must be differentiated based on their degree of responsibility for causing the crisis.  Moreover, mitigation cannot be at the expense of developing countries, he said.

Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya , said that new approaches to investment by the public and private sector need to reach the countries and regions worst hit by climate change.  Persistent droughts, constant sea‑level rise and increasingly frequent extreme weather patterns are reversing economic growth and development gains achieved over decades.  The result is increased fragility to instability and armed conflict that then come to the attention of this Security Council.  The implementation of the Council’s mandate to maintain global peace and security will only get more difficult with time if climate change remains on its present course.  Rather than wait for a future tipping point, we must redouble the efforts to direct all the resources and multilateral frameworks of our rules-based international order to mitigate the effects of climate change.  While the bulk of this work is happening outside the Council, no body with such a strong mandate should step aside from this challenge.

The climate-security nexus is already impacting Africa.  “Listen to us Africans when we tell you that the link is clear, its impact tangible and the need for solutions urgent,” he said.  Making recommendations, he said that the Council must do more when crafting mandates for conflict resolution and post-conflict resolution to ensure they dovetail with the efforts to deploy climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.  In this regard, he applauded Council resolutions 2349 (2017) and 2502 (2019), respectively on Lake Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that have integrated measures to address the impact of climate change.  The 15-member organ can also act strongly against illicit financial outflows, illicit resource exploitation, terrorism financing and money‑laundering in the most fragile regions in Africa.  Doing so immediately boosts the resources available to Governments to undertake climate change mitigation and offer the public services and goods needed to consolidate and protect peace.

Brigi Rafini, Prime Minister of Niger , agreed that the impact of climate change on peace and security is increasingly evident, stressing that water scarcity exacerbated by climate change could see gross domestic product (GDP) in the Sahel fall by 6 per cent and hunger increase 20 per cent by 2050.  Climate change has increased competition for diminished land and water resources, ramping up tensions between livestock owners and others.  He underscored the collective responsibility to tackle this existential challenge, stressing that “climate change and land degradation are no longer purely environmental matters”.  Rather, they are part of a broader view that links environmental goals with those for economic and social development, and the pursuit of international peace and stability.

“We need to consider climate change as a threat to peace and security,” he said, urging the Council to shore up its understanding of impact on security and to systematically consider climate change in its resolutions pertaining to specific country and regional contexts.  In such efforts, it should rely on the advisory role of the Peacebuilding Commission, and the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security, co-chaired by Niger and Ireland.  The appointment of a Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Climate and Security likewise will raise the profile of this dimension within the Council’s work.

Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, Prime Minister of Viet Nam , said the Earth’s recent calamities have placed great burdens on the political and socioeconomic life of many countries, causing unemployment and poverty, creating instability and exacerbating current conflicts.  Against that backdrop, the Council should galvanize the international community’s collective efforts with an approach that is balanced between traditional and non-traditional security challenges.  That includes addressing the root causes of conflicts such as poverty, inequality, power politics and unilateral interference and coercion.

Calling for strict adherence to the Charter of the United Nations and international law, he said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement on climate change must guide the way, and greater resources are needed to support developing countries, least developed countries, small island developing States and landlocked countries.  The Council should also enhance its early warning capacity, bolster its mediation and conflict prevention roles, work more closely with regional organizations and fully respect States’ sovereignty and national ownership.  Noting that Viet Nam is among the six countries most severely affected by climate change, he outlined various national efforts to address the challenge while requesting more international assistance.

Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway , emphasized that climate change is redefining the global security landscape.  “We must rethink and adapt the Council’s approaches to peacebuilding and sustaining peace in three ways,” she said.  First, the Council needs better information on climate-related security risks.  International research networks and the informal expert group will be important in that regard.  Norway has helped establish a Nordic-Baltic expert network.  Second, the Council should discuss climate risks in specific country contexts, based on country reporting and briefings.  The United Nations must be at the forefront of preventive diplomacy.  To achieve sustainable solutions, peace diplomacy must be climate-sensitive, and climate action must be conflict‑sensitive.  Third, it is imperative to strengthen partnerships within and beyond the United Nations system, including with affected States and regional organizations.  The active participation of diverse groups, including women and youth, is also vital.

The national security communities in many countries have understood the security risks posed by climate change, she continued.  While climate change can lead to hard security challenges, there are no hard security solutions.  The first line of defence is ambitious climate action.  It must begin with the full implementation of the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda.  Climate action depends on multilateral cooperation.  By shouldering a common responsibility to counter climate change, the Council will be better prepared to maintain international peace and stability.

Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines , emphasizing that the Council has a responsibility to address the consequences of climate change, said a failure to do so would be, in part, “an abdication of our duty”.  It is time for the organ to seriously consider drafting a resolution on the matter and to map out a coherent approach, aiming for a working consensus.  Affirming UNFCCC’s role as the primary body for dealing with climate change and the Paris Agreement as a major part of the rules-based international system, he said the Council should play its role without encroaching on the work of UNFCCC’s inclusive decision-making body.  It should also engage with the Peacebuilding Commission and the General Assembly on climate and security risks that touch on issues of humanitarian support, sustainable development, health pandemics, peace and security.

Stressing that the first step to prevent or contain climate-security risks is for the major, and historical, emitters to fulfil — and indeed exceed — the commitments made in the Paris Agreement, he underlined the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.  Climate change is an existential threat that disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, especially small island developing States such as Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.  “It has become distressingly commonplace for an entire year’s [gross domestic product] to be washed away by a hurricane overnight, even as we are hindered by a lack of a sufficient inclusion, on favourable terms, into the global financial architecture,” he said.  Citing the many natural hazards in Haiti, in particular, he also drew attention to the Sahel region and the battle for dwindling resources.  However, no country is immune to such human-made challenges and all must stand in solidarity, with the Council paying close attention to climate change as it crafts its mandates, he said.

Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia , said 7 of the 10 countries most vulnerable and least prepared to deal with climate change host a United Nations peacekeeping operation or a special political mission — a fact the Council cannot ignore.  She expressed support for the statement to be delivered by Germany’s Foreign Minister on behalf of like-minded countries pointing the way forward for the Council, stressing that “we need to acknowledge that the climate emergency can pose a danger to peace — and we must make it a part of our security policy planning and discussions here”.  She pressed the Council to “do more” to fully

aspects of its work, noting that the Secretary-General must receive a mandate to collect data and coordinate policy to this aim.

Among other efforts, she said that Estonia cooperates with small island States and least developed countries in green technology solutions and know-how transfer.  The Government also recently launched the Data for the Environment Alliance, a coalition of State and non-State actors that will support the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in developing a global environmental data strategy by 2025.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence of Ireland , said that climate change has many complex impacts, not least on international peace and security, the very business of this Council.  Climate change is already causing upheaval, affecting peace and security and the stability of societies.  Pointing out that the relationship between climate and security works in complex ways, he said political instability undermines efforts to build climate resilience, and the impact of climactic shocks is compounded when institutions are strained.  Ireland is proud to join the Weathering Risk Project to help guide action at the Security Council and beyond, and is keen to understand better not just how climate change contributes to insecurity but how climate action can build peace.  Ireland chairs the Informal Expert Group of Member States on this topic, together with Niger, also partnering with Nauru and Germany, as Chairs of the Group of Friends on Climate and Security.

Ireland’s core message today is that the inclusion of climate in Council discussions and actions will strengthen conflict prevention and support peacebuilding efforts.  Stressing the need to ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and youth in decision-making processes related to climate issues and the management of natural resources, he declared:  “But, in listening to and understanding the concerns and insights of future generations, we cannot abrogate our responsibility to provide leadership today”.

Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico , said the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that international peace and security can no longer be viewed through a single lens, but must also consider multiple drivers of insecurity.  Food insecurity, water scarcity and droughts — all exacerbated by climate change — have reached severe levels in several regions of the world.  Pledging Mexico’s support to the next Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in Glasgow, later in 2021, he said climate change requires a comprehensive global response with a focus on ecosystem preservations.  Mexico recently submitted its own national plan in that arena, which is coupled with a focus on prevention and adaptation, as well as efforts to reduce inequality and strengthen communities.  Stressing that all efforts must be taken in line with the 2030 Agenda, he welcomed the Council’s creation of an informal group to monitor the links between climate and peace and security as a timely measure.  Underlining the importance of ensuring sustainable peacebuilding and protecting livelihoods, he agreed with the Secretary-General that post-pandemic recovery efforts are an opportunity to “build back better” and build more egalitarian, adaptable societies.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France , said protecting the environment has, in recent years, meant recognizing climate change as a peace and security issue.  Of the 20 countries most affected by conflict in the world, 12 are also severely impacted by climate change, he said, spotlighting the impacts of desertification, the increase in forced migration and agricultural challenges — all of which have resulted in such fallout as the advent of climate refugees and growing conflicts over land and water.  Endorsing the initiative to address such matters under the auspices of the Council, he echoed calls for the appointment of a United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Security, as well as for an annual Secretary-General’s report with relevant recommendations.

Recognizing that the effects of climate change are unfairly distributed worldwide, he recalled his recent call for France’s contribution to the Green Climate Fund to be increased to one third of its total.  France strongly supports the creation of a “Great Green Wall” in Africa, which aims to restore 250 million hectares of land for agriculture, create 10 million green new jobs and sequester carbon.  He also pledged France’s commitment to accelerating the preservation of biodiversity, while calling for strengthened dialogue between the African Union and the United Nations on climate and security.  Turning to the Pacific, where many nations are struggling to implement mitigation measures, he called for additional international support and an easing of geopolitical tensions across the region.

Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change of  India , recalled the global democratic effort to take climate action in a nationally determined manner, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.  He cautioned the Council against building a parallel climate track where such principles are “brushed aside”.  Noting that there is no common, widely accepted methodology for assessing the links between climate change, conflict and fragility, he said fragility and climate impact are highly context‑specific.  In fragile contexts, where Governments struggle to provide basic services, emergency conditions are largely driven by political violence disrupting harvests and aid supplies, rather than by climate factors alone.  “A complete picture of climate vulnerability only emerges with an assessment of the State’s capacity to be the primary responder to interrelated environmental, social, economic and security dynamics,” he said.  While climate change does not directly cause violent conflict, its interaction with other social, political and economic factors can exacerbate conflict drivers.  He called for the building of robust governance structures at local, national and regional levels to address climate‑ and fragility-related risks, pressing donor countries to provide greater financial, technological and capacity-building assistance to help fragile States enact adaption and mitigation strategies.

John F. Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the United States , thanked European and other countries for their leadership on climate change during what he described as the United States “inexcusable absence” from the debate over the past four years.  Though climate change is indeed an existential threat, the world has yet to adequately respond to it.  Noting that the question of climate change is no longer one for debate, he declared:  “The evidence, the science, is screaming at us.”  Many of the world’s regions most impacted by climate change are also projected to become future conflict hotspots.  Therefore, the issue must feature in all of the Council’s work and reporting.  Emphasizing that President Joseph R. Biden understands that “we do not have a moment to waste”, he cited his new coordinated, whole-of-Government approach which aims to elevate the issue and put the United States on the path to sustainability that can never be reversed by any future President or demagogue.

Addressing climate change will require every country to step up and boost their level of ambition, he said, noting that the world’s largest carbon emitters bear the greatest responsibility.  First and foremost will be the need to reduce the use of coal globally.  “Inaction comes with a far higher price tag than action,” he said, stressing that, not since the industrial revolution has there been such potential to build back better in every part of the globe.  Just by doing nothing, humanity will march forward in what is tantamount to a mutual suicide pact, he warned, spotlighting the importance of the climate summit to be hosted by President Biden in the coming weeks, as well as the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC to be held in Glasgow later in 2021.  The United States will also work with like-minded countries in the Council, he said, urging Member States to begin treating climate change as the security crisis that it is.

Xie Zhenhua, Special Envoy for Climate Change of China , said that, even as global climate governance enters a new and crucial phase, the spread of COVID-19 poses serious threats to the global response.  Given the differences in historical responsibility and development levels between States, he underscored the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and urged developed nations to lead the way.  In building back after the pandemic, countries should respect nature, protect biodiversity, champion green lifestyles and “avoid old paths of giving without taking” from the Earth.  In that context, he described climate change as a development issue, urging the international community to support developing nations, least developed countries and small island developing States in implementing mitigation and adaptation measures.

“We need to stay committed to multilateralism,” he stressed, underlining the importance of UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement as the main channels for those critical discussions.  Any role to be played by the Security Council on climate change must fall under its purview, he added.  Outlining China’s commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities under the Paris Agreement, he spotlighted its recently announced plan to have national CO 2 emissions peak before 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality prior to 2060.  He also pointed out that the country’s forest cover has been rising steadily for many years, that it leads the world in green power generation and that it tops the list of clean energy patents registered.

The representative of the Russian Federation agreed that addressing climate change requires a global approach that is coordinated, targeted at reducing emissions and implementing effective adaptation measures, especially through UNFCCC.  Noting that the Council has discussed climate change on several occasions, he said the issue is often presented as a fundamental threat to stability and as a root cause of problems, particularly in Africa, with warnings about the increasing risks of conflict.  While he agreed that climate change can exacerbate conflict, he questioned whether it is the root cause of violence.  “There are serious doubts,” he said.  The connection between climate and conflict can be examined only in certain countries and regions.  Discussing it in the global context is not relevant.  “Not all conflicts are threats to international peace and security,” he explained.  In addition, considering climate as a root cause of security issues distracts from the true root causes, and thus, hinders solutions.  Political and socioeconomic factors, which have a greater influence on conflict risk, cannot be ignored, he said, pointing out that COVID-19 has exacerbated inequalities within and between countries and sparked an uptick in hunger — including in countries that were already in conflict.  He urged donors to address the problem of “green protectionism”, seen in their refusal to exchange technology that would allow others to adapt.   While discussing climate issues in the Council is seen as beneficial, the “real work” of improving coordination of international activities would be better accomplished in the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and UNFCC.  Conflicts — in and of themselves — reduce the ability of States to adapt to climate change, he said, explaining that the increased security risks in the Sahel are, in fact, caused by countries pursuing regime change in Libya.

Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of Malawi , speaking for the least developed countries, said building resilience to mitigate the security risks associated with climate change must begin with reflections on COVID-19, as Governments have relegated many other priorities in the quest to fight the virus.  Describing the impact of the nexus between climate change and security is “indiscriminate and consequential”, he said water scarcity, desertification and cyclones all foster competition for resources, and in the process, turn people into climate refugees.  Least developed countries bear the brunt of these phenomena, despite that their emissions are 30 times lower than those of high‑income countries.  Stressing that recovery from the coronavirus must be aligned with efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, he pressed developed countries to approach the 2021 UNFCC meeting with more ambition than in years past, as their current commitments to cut emissions remain “woefully inadequate”.  They must fulfil their pledges to provide $100 billion in climate financing annually, answer the call to earmark 50 per cent of financing in the Green Climate Fund for adaptation, especially in least developed countries, and to meaningfully transfer climate‑friendly technologies to help least developed countries accelerate their green development efforts.

Gaston Alphonso Browne, Prime Minister and Minister for Finance and Corporate Governance of Antigua and Barbuda , spoke on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, declaring:  “Make no mistake […] climate change’s existential threat to our own survival is not a future consideration, but a current reality.”  For the past 30 years, the Alliance has been the single most consistent advocate on climate, he said, highlighting the often-overlooked threats faced by small island developing States.  He urged the international community to simultaneously plan and operationalize a system to address inevitable loss and damage which uproot peace and security of small island developing States.  Equitable solutions are needed to systematically address difficult issues, such as climate change displacement, including the treatment of climate refugees, and loss of territory. For the past three decades, small island and low-lying States have been sounding the alarm, sending the SOS distress signal.  They are losing their territories, populations, resources and very existence due to climate change.  The Secretary-General recently stated:  “Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive[…] For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature.”  Sadly, small island developing States continue to be the front line for this war.  “Our appeal for the Council is to take this threat very seriously before it is too late,” he said.

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany , speaking for the Group of Friends of Climate and Security, said those countries are united by the common belief that climate change is the fundamental challenge of our time.  The poorest and most vulnerable are suffering the most, with entire islands at risk of disappearing.  “We are putting their future, their safety and their well‑being at risk if we don’t act,” he stressed, calling for concerted efforts by the United Nations in making climate change its top priority.  Agreeing with other speakers that the issue has major implications for peace and security, he said it therefore belongs firmly on the Council’s agenda.  In July 2020, the Nauru delegation presented the organ with a plan of action, including calling for the appointment of a Special Envoy on Climate and Security; regular reporting to the Council; climate‑sensitive peacebuilding; and more cooperation with civil society, regional and national actors on climate-related security risks.  Now, it is time for the Council to adopt a strong resolution reflecting each of those points, he said.

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The Effects of Climate Change

The effects of human-caused global warming are happening now, are irreversible for people alive today, and will worsen as long as humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

write an article on global warming a threat to life

  • We already see effects scientists predicted, such as the loss of sea ice, melting glaciers and ice sheets, sea level rise, and more intense heat waves.
  • Scientists predict global temperature increases from human-made greenhouse gases will continue. Severe weather damage will also increase and intensify.

Earth Will Continue to Warm and the Effects Will Be Profound

Effects_page_triptych

Global climate change is not a future problem. Changes to Earth’s climate driven by increased human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are already having widespread effects on the environment: glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking, river and lake ice is breaking up earlier, plant and animal geographic ranges are shifting, and plants and trees are blooming sooner.

Effects that scientists had long predicted would result from global climate change are now occurring, such as sea ice loss, accelerated sea level rise, and longer, more intense heat waves.

The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming.

write an article on global warming a threat to life

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Some changes (such as droughts, wildfires, and extreme rainfall) are happening faster than scientists previously assessed. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations body established to assess the science related to climate change — modern humans have never before seen the observed changes in our global climate, and some of these changes are irreversible over the next hundreds to thousands of years.

Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for many decades, mainly due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report, published in 2021, found that human emissions of heat-trapping gases have already warmed the climate by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since 1850-1900. 1 The global average temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees C (about 3 degrees F) within the next few decades. These changes will affect all regions of Earth.

The severity of effects caused by climate change will depend on the path of future human activities. More greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more climate extremes and widespread damaging effects across our planet. However, those future effects depend on the total amount of carbon dioxide we emit. So, if we can reduce emissions, we may avoid some of the worst effects.

The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss the brief, rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.

Here are some of the expected effects of global climate change on the United States, according to the Third and Fourth National Climate Assessment Reports:

Future effects of global climate change in the United States:

sea level rise

U.S. Sea Level Likely to Rise 1 to 6.6 Feet by 2100

Global sea level has risen about 8 inches (0.2 meters) since reliable record-keeping began in 1880. By 2100, scientists project that it will rise at least another foot (0.3 meters), but possibly as high as 6.6 feet (2 meters) in a high-emissions scenario. Sea level is rising because of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms. Image credit: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

Sun shining brightly over misty mountains.

Climate Changes Will Continue Through This Century and Beyond

Global climate is projected to continue warming over this century and beyond. Image credit: Khagani Hasanov, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Satellite image of a hurricane.

Hurricanes Will Become Stronger and More Intense

Scientists project that hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates will increase as the climate continues to warm. Image credit: NASA

write an article on global warming a threat to life

More Droughts and Heat Waves

Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense and less frequent. Image credit: NOAA

2013 Rim Fire

Longer Wildfire Season

Warming temperatures have extended and intensified wildfire season in the West, where long-term drought in the region has heightened the risk of fires. Scientists estimate that human-caused climate change has already doubled the area of forest burned in recent decades. By around 2050, the amount of land consumed by wildfires in Western states is projected to further increase by two to six times. Even in traditionally rainy regions like the Southeast, wildfires are projected to increase by about 30%.

Changes in Precipitation Patterns

Climate change is having an uneven effect on precipitation (rain and snow) in the United States, with some locations experiencing increased precipitation and flooding, while others suffer from drought. On average, more winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern United States, and less for the Southwest, over this century. Image credit: Marvin Nauman/FEMA

Crop field.

Frost-Free Season (and Growing Season) will Lengthen

The length of the frost-free season, and the corresponding growing season, has been increasing since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western United States. Across the United States, the growing season is projected to continue to lengthen, which will affect ecosystems and agriculture.

Heatmap showing scorching temperatures in U.S. West

Global Temperatures Will Continue to Rise

Summer of 2023 was Earth's hottest summer on record, 0.41 degrees Fahrenheit (F) (0.23 degrees Celsius (C)) warmer than any other summer in NASA’s record and 2.1 degrees F (1.2 C) warmer than the average summer between 1951 and 1980. Image credit: NASA

Satellite map of arctic sea ice.

Arctic Is Very Likely to Become Ice-Free

Sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is expected to continue decreasing, and the Arctic Ocean will very likely become essentially ice-free in late summer if current projections hold. This change is expected to occur before mid-century.

U.S. Regional Effects

Climate change is bringing different types of challenges to each region of the country. Some of the current and future impacts are summarized below. These findings are from the Third 3 and Fourth 4 National Climate Assessment Reports, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program .

  • Northeast. Heat waves, heavy downpours, and sea level rise pose increasing challenges to many aspects of life in the Northeast. Infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised. Farmers can explore new crop options, but these adaptations are not cost- or risk-free. Moreover, adaptive capacity , which varies throughout the region, could be overwhelmed by a changing climate. Many states and cities are beginning to incorporate climate change into their planning.
  • Northwest. Changes in the timing of peak flows in rivers and streams are reducing water supplies and worsening competing demands for water. Sea level rise, erosion, flooding, risks to infrastructure, and increasing ocean acidity pose major threats. Increasing wildfire incidence and severity, heat waves, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are causing widespread forest die-off.
  • Southeast. Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to the region’s economy and environment. Extreme heat will affect health, energy, agriculture, and more. Decreased water availability will have economic and environmental impacts.
  • Midwest. Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also worsen a range of risks to the Great Lakes.
  • Southwest. Climate change has caused increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks. In turn, these changes have made wildfires more numerous and severe. The warming climate has also caused a decline in water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and triggered heat-related health impacts in cities. In coastal areas, flooding and erosion are additional concerns.

1. IPCC 2021, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis , the Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

2. IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

3. USGCRP 2014, Third Climate Assessment .

4. USGCRP 2017, Fourth Climate Assessment .

Related Resources

write an article on global warming a threat to life

A Degree of Difference

So, the Earth's average temperature has increased about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the 20th century. What's the big deal?

write an article on global warming a threat to life

What’s the difference between climate change and global warming?

“Global warming” refers to the long-term warming of the planet. “Climate change” encompasses global warming, but refers to the broader range of changes that are happening to our planet, including rising sea levels; shrinking mountain glaciers; accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic; and shifts in flower/plant blooming times.

write an article on global warming a threat to life

Is it too late to prevent climate change?

Humans have caused major climate changes to happen already, and we have set in motion more changes still. However, if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the rise in global temperatures would begin to flatten within a few years. Temperatures would then plateau but remain well-elevated for many, many centuries.

Discover More Topics From NASA

Explore Earth Science

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Earth Science in Action

Earth Action

Earth Science Data

The sum of Earth's plants, on land and in the ocean, changes slightly from year to year as weather patterns shift.

Facts About Earth

write an article on global warming a threat to life

How will global warming harm human health and well-being?

The major public health organizations of the world have said that climate change is a critical public health problem. According to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, climate change makes many existing diseases and conditions worse, and it helps pests and pathogens spread into new regions. The most vulnerable people—children, the elderly, the poor, and those with health conditions—are at increased risk for climate-related health effects.

write an article on global warming a threat to life

Edward Butcher, 64, looks out into the street as he sits near the window to stay cool in his non-air conditioned apartment on a sweltering Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006 in the Ridgewood section of the Queens borough of New York. AP Photo/Jason DeCrow.

Examples of public health risks

  • Extreme heat and poor air quality increase complications from underlying heart and respiratory conditions like asthma, renal failure, and pre-term birth, and as temperatures rise, there will be more heat-related illness and deaths in both urban and rural areas. 
  • The risk of very large fires has increased and will increase further across California and other parts of the West, directly threatening people’s lives and causing severe air pollution across large areas.
  • The frequency and intensity of heavy downpours has increased and is likely to increase further, raising the risk of flash flooding.
  • Ticks and mosquitos that transmit illnesses like Lyme disease and West Nile virus are likely to increase and spread to new areas in the United States. 
  • More frequent heavy rain events will likely increase Americans’ exposure to water-borne illnesses, including those linked to sewage contamination of drinking water. Recreational waters are likely to experience more outbreaks of aquatic pathogens, including Vibrio bacteria and harmful algal blooms.
  • Human-caused climate change also threatens food safety in multiple ways including lowering the nutritional quality of staples like wheat and rice, causing greater accumulation of mercury and other toxins in seafood, and increasing the chance for food-borne pathogens to enter to food supply.

More  U.S. impacts . More  global impacts .

IPCC (2012): Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation . A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V. Barros, T.F. Stocker, D. Qin, D.J. Dokken, K.L. Ebi, M.D. Mastrandrea, K.J. Mach, G.-K. Plattner, S.K. Allen, M. Tignor, and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, 582 pp.

Portier, C.J., K. Thigpen-Tart, S.R. Carter, C.H. Dilworth, A.E. Grambsch, J. Gohlke, J. Hess, S.N. Howard, G. Luber, J.T. Lutz, T. Maslak, N. Prudent, M. Radtke, J.P. Rosenthal, T. Rowles, P.S. Sandifer, J. Scheraga, P.J. Schramm, D. Strickman, J.M. Trtanj, P-Y Whung (2010): A Human Health Perspective On Climate Change: A Report Outlining the Research Needs on the Human Health Effects of Climate Change . Research Triangle Park, NC: Environmental Health Perspectives/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002272

Ebi, K.L., J.M. Balbus, G. Luber, A. Bole, A. Crimmins, G. Glass, S. Saha, M.M. Shimamoto, J. Trtanj, and J.L. White-Newsome, 2018: Human Health. In  Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 539–571. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH14

Ziska, L., A. Crimmins, A. Auclair, S. DeGrasse, J.F. Garofalo, A.S. Khan, I. Loladze, A.A. Pérez de León, A. Showler, J. Thurston, and I. Walls (2016). Ch. 7: Food Safety, Nutrition, and Distribution. In The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 189–216. http:// dx.doi.org/10.7930/J0ZP4417

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Why climate change is still the greatest threat to human health

Polluted air and steadily rising temperatures are linked to health effects ranging from increased heart attacks and strokes to the spread of infectious diseases and psychological trauma..

NEJM Malaria1

People around the world are witnessing firsthand how climate change can wreak havoc on the planet. Steadily rising average temperatures fuel increasingly intense wildfires, hurricanes, and other disasters that are now impossible to ignore. And while the world has been plunged into a deadly pandemic, scientists are sounding the alarm once more that climate change is still the greatest threat to human health in recorded history .

As recently as August—when wildfires raged in the United States, Europe, and Siberia—World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement that “the risks posed by climate change could dwarf those of any single disease.”

On September 5, more than 200 medical journals released an unprecedented joint editorial that urged world leaders to act. “The science is unequivocal,” they write. “A global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.”

Despite the acute dangers posed by COVID-19, the authors of the joint op-ed write that world governments “cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions.” Instead, they argue, everyone must treat climate change with the same urgency as they have COVID-19.

Here’s a look at the ways that climate change can affect your health—including some less obvious but still insidious effects—and why scientists say it’s not too late to avert catastrophe.

Air pollution

Climate change is caused by an increase of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, mostly from fossil fuel emissions. But burning fossil fuels can also have direct consequences for human health. That’s because the polluted air contains small particles that can induce stroke and heart attacks by penetrating the lungs and heart and even travelling into the bloodstream. Those particles might harm the organs directly or provoke an inflammatory response from the immune system as it tries to fight them off. Estimates suggest that air pollution causes anywhere between 3.6 million and nine million premature deaths a year.

“The numbers do vary,” says Andy Haines , professor of environmental change and public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and author of the recently published book Planetary Health . “But they all agree that it’s a big public health burden.”

NEJM flooding

People over the age of 65 are most susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution, but many others are at risk too, says Kari Nadeau , director of the Sean N. Parker Centre for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University. People who smoke or vape are at increased risk, as are children with asthma.

Air pollution also has consequences for those with allergies. Carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the air, which then pulls more pollen out from plants. For some people, this might just mean that they face annoyingly long bouts of seasonal allergies. But for others, it could be life-threatening.

“For people who already have respiratory disease, boy is that a problem,” Nadeau says. When pollen gets into the respiratory pathway, the body creates mucus to get rid of it, which can then fill up and suffocate the lungs.

Even healthy people can have similar outcomes if pollen levels are especially intense. In 2016, in the Australian state of Victoria, a severe thunderstorm combined with high levels of pollen to induce what The Lancet has described as “the world’s largest and most catastrophic epidemic of thunderstorm asthma.” So many residents suffered asthma attacks that emergency rooms were overwhelmed—and at least 10 people died as a result.

Climate change is also causing wildfires to get worse, and wildfire smoke is especially toxic. As one recent study showed, fires can account for 25 percent of dangerous air pollution in the U.S. Nadeau explains that the smoke contains particles of everything that the fire has consumed along its path—from rubber tires to harmful chemicals. These particles are tiny and can penetrate even deeper into a person’s lungs and organs. ( B ritish wildfires are getting more frequent. Here's what that means .)

Extreme heat

Heat waves are deadly, but researchers at first didn’t see direct links between climate change and the harmful impacts of heat waves and other extreme weather events. Haines says the evidence base has been growing. “We have now got a number of studies which has shown that we can with high confidence attribute health outcomes to climate change,” he says.

NEJM Heat

Most recently, Haines points to a study published earlier this year in Nature Climate Change that attributes more than a third of heat-related deaths to climate change. As National Geographic reported at the time , the study found that the human toll was even higher in some countries with less access to air conditioning or other factors that render people more vulnerable to heat. 

That’s because the human body was not designed to cope with temperatures above 37°C, Nadeau says. Heat can break down muscles. The body does have some ways to deal with the heat—such as sweating. “But when it’s hot outside all the time, you cannot cope with that, and your heart muscles and cells start to literally die and degrade,” she says.

If you’re exposed to extreme heat for too long and are unable to adequately release that heat, the stress can cause a cascade of problems throughout the body. The heart has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the organs, while sweat leeches the body of necessary minerals such as sodium and potassium. The combination can result in heart attacks and strokes .

Dehydration from heat exposure can also cause serious damage to the kidneys, which rely on water to function properly. For people whose kidneys are already beginning to fail—particularly older adults—Nadeau says that extreme heat can be a death sentence. “This is happening more and more,” she says.

Studies have also drawn links between higher temperatures and preterm birth and other pregnancy complications. It’s unclear why, but Haines says that one hypothesis is that extreme heat reduces blood flow to the foetus.

Food insecurity

One of the less direct—but no less harmful—ways that climate change can affect health is by disrupting the world’s supply of food.

Climate change both reduces the amount of food that’s available and makes it less nutritious.   According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report , crop yields have already begun to decline as a result of rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events. Meanwhile, studies have shown that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can leech plants of zinc, iron, and protein—nutrients that humans need to survive.

NEJM Air Pollution

Malnutrition is linked to a variety of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It can also increase the risk of stunting, or impaired growth , in children, which can harm cognitive function.

Climate change also imperils what we eat from the sea. Rising ocean temperatures have led many fish species to migrate toward Earth’s poles in search of cooler waters. Haines says that the resulting decline of fish stocks in subtropic regions “has big implications for nutrition,” because many of those coastal communities depend on fish for a substantial amount of the protein in their diets.

This effect is likely to be particularly harmful for Indigenous communities, says Tiff-Annie Kenny, a professor in the faculty of medicine at Laval University in Quebec who studies climate change and food security in the Canadian Arctic. It’s much more difficult for these communities to find alternative sources of protein, she says, either because it’s not there or because it’s too expensive. “So what are people going to eat instead?” she asks.

Infectious diseases 

As the planet gets hotter, the geographic region where ticks and mosquitoes like to live is getting wider. These animals are well-known vectors of diseases such as the Zika virus, dengue fever, and malaria. As they cross the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Nadeau says, mosquitoes and ticks bring more opportunities for these diseases to infect greater swaths of the world.

“It used to be that they stayed in those little sectors near the Equator, but now unfortunately because of the warming of northern Europe and Canada, you can find Zika in places you wouldn’t have expected,” Nadeau says.

In addition, climate conditions such as temperature and humidity can impact the life cycle of mosquitoes. Haines says there’s particularly good evidence showing that, in some regions, climate change has altered these conditions in ways that increase the risk of mosquitos transmitting dengue .

There are also several ways in which climate change is increasing the risk of diseases that can be transmitted through water, such as cholera, typhoid fever, and parasites. Sometimes that’s fairly direct, such as when people interact with dirty floodwaters. But Haines says that drought can have indirect impacts when people, say, can’t wash their hands or are forced to drink from dodgier sources of freshwater.

Mental health

A common result of any climate-linked disaster is the toll on mental health. The distress caused by drastic environmental change is so significant that it has been given its own name— solastalgia .

NEJM Malaria

Nadeau says that the effects on mental health have been apparent in her studies of emergency room visits arising from wildfires in the western United States. People lose their homes, their jobs, and sometimes their loved ones, and that takes an immediate toll. “What’s the fastest acute issue that develops? It’s psychological,” she says. Extreme weather events such as wildfires and hurricanes cause so much stress and anxiety that they can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and even suicide in the long run.

Another common factor is that climate change causes disproportionate harm to the world’s most vulnerable people. On September 2, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an analysis showing that racial and ethnic minority communities are particularly at risk . According to the report, if temperatures rise by 2°C (3.6°F), Black people are 40 percent more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in related deaths. Another 34 percent are more likely to live in areas with a rise in childhood asthma.

Further, the effects of climate change don’t occur in isolation. At any given time, a community might face air pollution, food insecurity, disease, and extreme heat all at once. Kenny says that’s particularly devastating in communities where the prevalence of food insecurity and poverty are already high. This situation hasn’t been adequately studied, she says, because “it’s difficult to capture these shocks that climate can bring.”

Why there’s reason for hope

In recent years, scientists and environmental activists have begun to push for more research into the myriad health effects of climate change. “One of the striking things is there’s been a real dearth of funding for climate change and health,” Haines says. “For that reason, some of the evidence we have is still fragmentary.”

Still, hope is not lost. In the Paris Agreement, countries around the world have pledged to limit global warming to below 2°C (3.6°F)—and preferably to 1.5°C (2.7°F)—by cutting their emissions. “When you reduce those emissions, you benefit health as well as the planet,” Haines says.

Meanwhile, scientists and environmental activists have put forward solutions that can help people adapt to the health effects of climate change. These include early heat warnings and dedicated cooling centres, more resilient supply chains, and freeing healthcare facilities from dependence on the electric grid.

Nadeau argues that the COVID-19 pandemic also presents an opportunity for world leaders to think bigger and more strategically. For example, the pandemic has laid bare problems with efficiency and equity that have many countries restructuring their healthcare facilities. In the process, she says, they can look for new ways to reduce waste and emissions, such as getting more hospitals using renewable energy.

“This is in our hands to do,” Nadeau says. “If we don’t do anything, that would be cataclysmic.”

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Global Warming and Its Health Impact

Since the mid-19 th century, human activities have increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the Earth's atmosphere that resulted in increased average temperature. The effects of rising temperature include soil degradation, loss of productivity of agricultural land, desertification, loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystems, reduced fresh-water resources, acidification of the oceans, and the disruption and depletion of stratospheric ozone. All these have an impact on human health, causing non-communicable diseases such as injuries during natural disasters, malnutrition during famine, and increased mortality during heat waves due to complications in chronically ill patients. Direct exposure to natural disasters has also an impact on mental health and, although too complex to be quantified, a link has even been established between climate and civil violence.

Over time, climate change can reduce agricultural resources through reduced availability of water, alterations and shrinking arable land, increased pollution, accumulation of toxic substances in the food chain, and creation of habitats suitable to the transmission of human and animal pathogens. People living in low-income countries are particularly vulnerable.

Climate change scenarios include a change in distribution of infectious diseases with warming and changes in outbreaks associated with weather extreme events. After floods, increased cases of leptospirosis, campylobacter infections and cryptosporidiosis are reported. Global warming affects water heating, rising the transmission of water-borne pathogens. Pathogens transmitted by vectors are particularly sensitive to climate change because they spend a good part of their life cycle in a cold-blooded host invertebrate whose temperature is similar to the environment. A warmer climate presents more favorable conditions for the survival and the completion of the life cycle of the vector, going as far as to speed it up as in the case of mosquitoes. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include some of the most widespread worldwide illnesses such as malaria and viral diseases. Tick-borne diseases have increased in the past years in cold regions, because rising temperatures accelerate the cycle of development, the production of eggs, and the density and distribution of the tick population. The areas of presence of ticks and diseases that they can transmit have increased, both in terms of geographical extension than in altitude. In the next years the engagement of the health sector would be working to develop prevention and adaptation programs in order to reduce the costs and burden of climate change.

Introduction

In the last decade, the interest in the effect of climate change on human health has increased. The impact of Homo sapiens and his activities on the Earth's complex ecosystem have started since the beginning of farming, but it is only with the industrial revolution in the 18 th century that the changes produced by human activities on planet Earth have been accelerating exponentially. Precisely, because of the role played by Homo sapiens in changing the ecosystem in order to ensure his survival and his development, the actual geological era, which follows the Holocene, is called the Anthropocene. 1

The Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel n Climate Change), finalized in November 2014 confirms that human activities have produced since the mid-19 th century, an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the Earth's atmosphere and an increase in average temperature without comparison in human history. The Earth's temperature has been relatively constant over many centuries ago, meanwhile in the last two centuries the changes registered are unprecedented on time scales ranging from decades to millennia. The rate of change in climate is faster now than in any other period in the past thousand years.

Weather and Climate

Two key concepts in climate science are “weather” and “climate.” Weather refers to the conditions of the atmosphere at a certain place and time with reference to temperature, pressure, humidity, wind, and other key parameters (meteorological elements), the presence of clouds, precipitation and the presence of special phenomena, such as thunderstorms, dust storms, tornados and others. Climate is defined as the average weather, or as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. 2

Temperature

The global average surface temperature has increased by 0.6 °C since the late 1950's and snow cover and ice extent have diminished. An average rise of 10–20 cm in the sea level has been reported and the temperature of the oceans has increased. 3

The fourth Assessment Report (AR4) projected changes in climate until 2100 foresee including higher maximum temperature and more hot days, and higher minimum temperature and fewer cold days, as virtually certain; increase in the length and intensity in warm spells, hot waves, and precipitation, as very likely; and droughts or dryness, changes in intensity, frequency, and duration of tropical cyclone activity, and increase in extreme sea level, as likely, excluding tsunami. 2 , 4

Effects of Global Warming

The effects of rising temperature include soil degradation, loss of productivity of agricultural land and desertification, loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystems, reduced fresh-water resources, acidification of oceans, and the disruption and depletion of stratospheric ozone. 5

A great attention has been given to the relationship between climate change and rising risk of infectious diseases, mostly to the vector-borne infections. However, non-communicable diseases can also heavily affect human health.

The increase in average temperature has consequences that occur acutely—such as during natural disasters and extreme events like floods, hurricanes, droughts, heat waves—or it can occur over time through reduced availability of water, drying up the soil, alterations and shrinking arable land, increased pollution, and creation of habitats favorable to the transmission of human and animal pathogens, either directly or via insect vectors.

Populations living in delta regions, low lying small island states, and many arid regions where drought and availability of water are already problematic, are at risk of suffering the effects of global warming. 6 People living in low-income countries, disposing of less technological resources either to protect themselves against extreme events are particularly vulnerable.

Climate change and increase in greenhouse gases can be considered universal, while land use changes have only local impacts. However, despite they occur locally, they have also a feed-back to the global climate and bio-geochemistry. 7

Agriculture and Water Resources

The effect of temperature on agriculture is linked to the availability of water and food production, which can be threatened by prolonged periods of drought or by the excessive rainfall. The agricultural sector employs 70% of water resources, representing the largest user of fresh water. During the last century, irrigated areas have risen fivefold. For 2025 forecast shows that 64% of the world's population will live in water-stressed basins. 8

According to AR4, the variation in the amount and intensity of rainfall will have an overall negative impact on agriculture. Indeed, in areas where precipitation decreases, the availability of total water resources will be reduced, while in areas where an increase in precipitation is expected, the variability and intensity of rainfall could have a negative impact on the seasonal distribution of rainfall and raise the risk of flood and water pollution.

Rising temperature is not the only cause of soil aridity; exploitation of the environment, deforestation, and loss of biodiversity are also important contributing factors. It is estimated that a 2.5 °C increase in global temperature above the pre-industrial level may produce major biodiversity losses in both endemic plants and animals; 41%–51% of endemic plants in southern Africa would be lost, and so do between 13% and 80% of various fauna in the same region. Globally, 20%–30% of all plant and animal species assessed so far would be at high risk of extinction with such a temperature rise. 4

Higher temperatures may also facilitate the introduction of new pathogens, vectors, or hosts that result in increasing need of pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture. These toxic substances accumulate in the food chain, pollute ground water resources, and could be easily spread through the air. Risks from many pathogens, particulate and particle-associated contaminants could thus significantly increase human exposures to pathogens and chemicals in agricultural and even in temperate regions ( Table 1 ). 9

Effect of Extreme Events

An extreme weather event is one that is rare at a particular place and/or time of year. A single extreme event cannot generally be directly attributed to anthropogenic influence, although the change in likelihood for the event to occur has been determined for some events by accounting for observed changes in climate. 2

Unlike geophysical disasters whose causes have not been influenced by human action, hydro-meteorological and climate-related events are the result of the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Since 1950, the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, and duration of these events have changed and projections show that they continue to increase with climate change. 10

Even in temperate regions, the climate forecasting models indicate that the total rainfall will decrease but will tend to increase their intensity. 11 When the climate system acquires more energy from higher average air temperatures and the latent heat of increased water vapor, the frequency of extreme weather events (storms, hurricanes, rain-related floods, droughts, etc ) is expected to increase. 2

In 2012, about 32 million people fled their homes because of catastrophes. The higher burden of natural disasters is endured by people living in low-income countries because they are directly affected by environmental degradation and they have less chance to defend themselves against the threat of their immediate environment and health. 12

Direct Exposure of Extreme Weather Events

The potential health impacts of extreme weather events include both direct effects, such as traumatic deaths, and indirect effects, such as illnesses associated with ecologic or social disruption. 13

The consequences in the immediate term are an increased mortality due to injuries, while afterwards there could be an effect on water quality, which could be contaminated by pathogens or chemicals. Floods have already been demonstrated to enhance the contamination of water bodies by pesticides and are followed by outbreaks of infectious diseases. 14

The effect of drought is manifested in an immediate way on the populations of the poorest countries. The loss of crops or livestock has an immediate consequence on the nutritional status of the population, causing malnutrition, under-nutrition, and compromised childhood development due to declines in local agriculture. Recurrent famine due to drought led to widespread loss of livestock, population displacement, and malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. In 2000, after three years of drought, famine has placed an estimated 10 million persons at risk of starvation. Malnutrition and measles were reported to be important causes of mortality among people aged <14 years. 15

Impact on Mental Health and Conflicts

There is an increased burden of psychological diseases and injuries related to natural disasters potentially wide but under-examined, underestimated and not adequately monitored. The mental health situation may be directly connected to the event, as in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or become chronic. 12 Rubonis and Bickmann reported an increase of approximately 17% in the global rate of psychopathology during disasters. They affirmed that psychological morbidity tends to affect 30%–40% of the disaster population within the first year, with a persistent burden of disease expected to remain chronic. 16 PTSD does not only affect victims of disasters but also has a prevalence of 10%–20% among rescue workers. 17

Another aspect related to the impact the climate change can have on communities is linked to the onset of conflicts. Without interventions designed to protect the most fragile ecosystems, desertification threatens the economies based on subsistence agriculture. This can generate conflicts regarding the access to water resources, and can increase tension between populations of farmers and nomadic herders. Statistical studies have linked climate and civil violence. Regression models have been applied to identify relationships between measures of civil conflict and climate variables, such as rainfall and temperature. Burke, examining the period 1981–2002 in sub-Saharan Africa, found a relationship between the annual incidence of civil conflict resulting in at least 1000 deaths and warmer temperatures in the same and preceding years. However, although climate change could be seen as a risk of civil violence, a quantitative model could also consider other drives to explain the origin of conflicts. 18

The damage to agriculture could indirectly affect distant countries from the concerned regions. The loss of about one-third of the grain produced due to the extreme heat and fires during the summer 2010 in western Russia, has increased the price of the wheat worldwide. In fact, in the Russian Federation the flour prices were increased by 20%, and finally urban populations in low-income countries like Pakistan and Egypt, were challenged. 19

Effects of Heat Waves

Heat waves lead to an excess mortality, even in developed countries, because mortality generally increases at temperatures both above and below an optimum value. In cold areas the increase in mortality is more closely related to cold season 20 because of the epidemic spread of air-borne viral infections ( Table 2 ) 21 - 26 and secondary bacterial infections and cardiovascular complications. Low temperatures cause cardiovascular and respiratory alterations including bronchoconstriction, and reduction in mucociliary defense and other immunological reactions. These conditions make people more receptive to air-borne pathogens. Transmission of infections is also favored by staying in closed crowded spaces, which is not uncommon during cold seasons.

Populations residing in colder climates are more sensitive to heat and heat waves. It was estimated that the heat wave that occurred in Europe, especially France, during August 2003 caused an excess mortality of 14800 deaths. 27 Patients with chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are more vulnerable to excessive temperatures and at risk of complications. 28 - 30 Beginning with each heat wave period and slightly during its course, a 14% increase in the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest has been reported. 31 Patients suffering from asthma are more hospitalized during extreme heat and precipitation events. It has been hypothesized that thunderstorm events or periods of heavy rainfall and intense wind can trigger the release of fungal spores that are carried by wind, resulting in increased exposure to these allergens. 32 - 35 Another event reported during hot season is the rise in the incidence of urolithiasis. This is believed to be attributed the physiological link between high heat exposure, sweat function, dehydration, and kidney function, with a consequent apparent increase in kidney stone incidence in hotter climate. 29 , 36

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Near the polar ice cap at 81° North of Svalbard (Andrew Shiva, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Parched earth, typical of a drought (Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, CC BY 3.0)

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Satellite image of Hurricane Isabel about 650 km North of Puerto Rico on September 14, 2003 (Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC)

El Niño

El Niño Southern Oscillation is a climate event that originates in the Pacific Ocean but has wide-ranging consequences for weather around the world. Globally, it is linked to an increased impact of natural disasters and is especially associated with droughts and floods and with transmission of infectious disease, water-borne and vector-borne diseases, 37 particularly malaria. 38 , 39 Although cholera outbreaks occur in Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya almost every year since 1977, in African Great Lakes Region (AGLR) the incidence of cholera greatly increases during years of El Niño warm events and decreases or remains stable between these periods. 40

El Niño events can produce significant abnormalities in atmospheric general circulations and weather conditions. El Niño events cause changes in sea surface temperature (SST) in the Pacific Ocean, impact the Walker Circulation, and displace the convective area. These changes in atmospheric circulation cause abnormalities in the monsoon system and moisture fields in eastern Asia.

As El Niño has an influence on rainfall and wind speed, it can affect the persistence or moving polluting dust. The 2015 El Niño has had significant effects on air pollution in eastern China, especially in the region including the capital city of Beijing where aerosol pollution was significantly enhanced. 41 The relationship between air pollution and asthma has been well-established. Air pollution is made up of gases and particulate matters that can be transported into the alveoli depending on their size. Particulate matters can produce damage to the whole respiratory apparatus. Exposure to these agents can cause acute pulmonary diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and if continues for a long time, it can activate cellular mediators leading to pulmonary fibrosis. 42

Finally, in rural setting, a neglected effect of warm temperature is the increased exposure to snakebites. Snakes are ectothermic organisms whose distribution, movement, and behaviors change as a function of weather fluctuations. In Costa Rica, high numbers of snakebites occur during the cold and hot phases of El Niño. Like other tropical diseases, snakebites occur more frequently in poor settings, thus reflecting the general vulnerability of impoverished human populations to the adverse effects of climate change. 43

Climate Change and Infectious Diseases

Climate mainly affects the range of infectious diseases, whereas weather affects the timing and intensity of outbreaks. Climate change scenarios include a change in the distribution of infectious diseases with warming and changes in outbreaks associated with weather extremes. 44 Statistical models are used to estimate the global burden of some infectious diseases as a result of climate change. According to the models, by 2030, 10% more diarrheal diseases are expected, affecting primarily the young children.

If global temperature increases by 2–3 °C, as it is expected to, the population at risk for malaria could increase by 3%–5%. 45

Infectious Diseases during Extreme Events

Floods not only have direct effects but also increase the risk of microbiological water pollution. Excess cases of leptospirosis and campylobacter enteritis have been reported after flooding in the Czech Republic 46 and in coastal areas of Maryland during extreme precipitation events 47 . Similarly, an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis began six weeks after the peak of an extensive river flooding in Germany. 48

Global warming also affects the water heating and transmission of water-borne pathogens, through the establishment of a more suitable environment for bacterial growth. The higher sea surface temperature and sea level has resulted in rising water-borne infectious and toxin-related illnesses such as cholera and shellfish poisoning. 44

Proliferation of micro-organisms such as Vibrio vulnificus and V. cholerae non-O1/O139, 49 and infection of wounds and sepsis affecting bathers have been reported as consequence of water temperatures above the average in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea during the hot summer of 2006. 50

Vector-borne Diseases and Mosquitoes

The transmission of infectious diseases through vectors is more complex, particularly when humans or livestock, in the case of diseases of veterinary interest, are not the only reservoir. The key elements in the epidemiology of vector-borne diseases include the ecology and behavior of the host, the ecology and behavior of the carrier, and the level of immunity of population.

Pathogens transmitted by vectors are particularly sensitive to climate change because they spend a good part of their life cycle in an ectothermic invertebrate host whose temperature is similar to the environment. 51 A warmer climate presents a more favorable condition for the survival and completion of the life cycle of the vector, going as far as to speed it up as in the case of mosquitoes.

Comparing the maturation of mosquitoes in huts in forest areas and in deforested areas, in which there was a difference of a few degrees, has allowed to estimate the percentage of insects that are passed by the larval form to the adult form (from 65% to 82%) and the reduction of the period required for the development, which passed from 9 to 8 days, in warmer areas. 52

Mosquitoes are found worldwide, except in regions permanently covered by ice. There are about 3500 species of mosquitoes, almost three-quarters of which are present in tropical and subtropical wetlands. Mosquitoes typical of temperate regions have had to develop strategies to survive the winter, as well as pathogens that can be transmitted. In tropical regions, similarly, adaptations were needed to survive the unfavorable times of prolonged drought. In both cases, these adaptive mechanisms have affected the seasonality of transmission. 53

Rising temperature has allowed the extension of the area of distribution of certain diseases. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include some of the most widespread illness worldwide. Some of them are caused by parasites, such as Plasmodium spp , the agent of malaria, the main parasitic disease, causing 214 million of new cases in 2015. 54

Temperature affects each stage of mosquitoes' lifecycle. 55 , 56 There is a minimum and maximum temperature threshold above and below which the development and survival of the vector and the parasite are not possible. Above a certain temperature anopheles mosquito vectors of malaria, cannot survive; 57 their life cycle is so fast that does not allow the development of Plasmodium within their salivary glands. The temperature is a variable that affects development of both the vector population and the parasite within the vector; meanwhile the availability of water and moisture affects the vector only. 58 In recent decades, outbreaks of malaria have been reported from many mountainous regions of Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda, 58 but a high degree of temporal and spatial variation in the climate of East Africa suggests further that claimed associations between local malaria resurgence and regional changes in climate are overly simplistic. Increases in malaria have been attributed to migration, breakdown in both health service provision and vector control operations, and deforestation. Economic, social, and political factors can therefore, explain recent resurgence in malaria rather than climate change. 59 Models have been elaborated to predict in the next years the distribution of malaria. They forecast an extension of areas of endemic malaria and a shift in the affected areas.

Patterns considering Anopheles gambiae vector complex species estimate that climate change effects on African malaria vectors are shifting their distributional potential from West to East and South. Although it is likely a reduction of the malaria burden, these epidemiological changes will pose novel public health problems in areas where it has not previously been common. 60

The reintroduction of malaria in previously endemic areas of Europe and in temperate regions is theoretically possible. In case of the reappearance of the vector, the human carriers of gametocytes, the forms of the parasite transmissible to the mosquito, would also be present in adequate numbers and for a sufficient period to support the transmission. 61 , 62 That is why in southern Europe even though the vector circulates, a limited number of subjects were involved during outbreaks. 63 - 65

Mosquitoes can also transmit viral infections to humans and other vertebrates. Regarded as a typical of tropical or subtropical regions, these diseases and their vectors have begun to be reported in temperate regions. In recent decades, epidemics with autochthonous transmission of dengue fever and chikungunya, both carried by the mosquito Aedes albopictus , have been described in Europe and the USA. 66 These outbreaks were introduced by travelers from endemic areas, but the presence of a vector has allowed the transmission to local population. 67 , 68 Although generally considered a secondary vector of dengue fever, A. albopictus is also able to transmit other viruses including yellow fever. It was introduced in Europe in the 1970's and now it is present in at least 12 states and could go until reach even Scandinavia. 69

Recently, Zika virus has emerged as a “public health emergency of international concern,” according to World Health Organization. Whether the risk of outbreaks or autochthonous cases of Zika virus infections during the summer season in Europe is possible due to the presence of Aedes , is not yet established. 70

For these viruses, which are limited to humans, vector control measures have allowed to contain the spread of the disease. Conversely, a virus such as the West Nile virus, which has a large reservoir constituted by wild birds, could easily become endemic. 71 After the first outbreak reported in Europe in the South of France, and in the USA in the city of New York, West Nile virus is now firmly established in these areas. 72 Their diffusion is supported by mild winters, springs and dry summers, heat waves early in the season and wet fall. 73

Vector-borne Diseases and Ticks

Ticks are responsible for the transmission of both viruses and bacteria. Rising temperature accelerates the cycle of development, the production of eggs, and the density and distribution of their population. 74 , 75

The areas of presence of ticks and diseases that can be transmitted have increased in terms of geographical extension and in altitude. It is possible that the rising temperature could already lead to change in the distribution of the population of Ixodes ricinus , vector of viral infections such as tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease in Europe.

The increased incidence of tick-borne encephalitis has also been linked to milder and shorter winters and the consequent extension of the period of tick activity. 76 - 79

In addition to climate change, among the leading causes of increased transmission of tick-borne diseases the abandoning of agricultural lands would also be considered, which has allowed the proliferation of rodents reservoir, and the establishment of ecological niches suitable to ticks in urban parks ( Table 3 ). 80

The global changes that we are currently experiencing have never happened before. They include climate change and variability, change of composition of the atmosphere, use of the earth's surface for expansion of agricultural lands and deforestation. Other changes include an extension of the inhabited rural areas, urbanization, globalization of trade and transports, displacement of populations, diffusion of new plant species, spread of human and animal diseases, and improvements in conditions of life and diffusion of advanced technologies worldwide. 81

Climate change represents one of the main environmental and health equity challenges of our time because the burden of climate-sensitive diseases is the greatest for the poorest populations. 82 Many of the health impacts of climate are a particular threat to poor people in low- and middle-income countries. For example, the mortality rate derived from vector-borne diseases is almost 300 times greater in developing nations than in developed countries, posing as a significant cause of death, disease burden and health inequity, as brake on socioeconomic development, and as a strain on health services. 83

In urban setting, the local climate conditions, where people live and work, create most of the direct human health hazards, such as those due to the urban-heat-island effect. Therefore, a more indirect health effects is often associated with global or large-scale regional climate change. Like other effects of rising temperature, the consequences of global warming are also worse in low-income countries where urbanization have occurred rapidly and without planning. 84

In the next years, in order to contain the global warming, technologies that reduce greenhouse emissions and the consumption of water resources would be needed. A constant need to ensure access to food and availability of protein to the growing world population through agricultural techniques that increase the productivity without depleting the soil would be experienced. Finally, it is important not to forget the most directly and indirectly exposures to damages and results of climate change.

The engagement of the health sector would deal with the increasing pollution-related diseases, to extreme weather events, and would develop knowledge and skills in local prevention/adaptation programs, in order to reduce the costs and burden of the consequences of climate change. 85 Health system needs to strengthen primary health care, develop preventive programs, put special attention towards the vulnerable communities and regions, encourage community participation in grass root planning, emergency preparedness, and make capacity to forecast future health risks. 86

To prevent the spread of infectious and vector-borne diseases, it would be necessary to establish an integrated notification network of veterinary, entomological and human survey, with particular attention to avoid the introduction of new human and animal pathogens. 87

Health professionals everywhere have a responsibility to put health at the heart of climate change negotiations. Firstly, because climate change already has a major adverse impact on the health of human populations. Secondly, because reducing greenhouse gas emissions has unrivalled opportunities for improving public health. 88

Conflict of Interest:

None declared.

Cite this article as: Rossati A. Global warming and its health impact. Int J Occup Environ Med 2017;8:7-20. doi: 10.15171/ijoem.2017.963

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Climate Change Is Speeding Toward Catastrophe. The Next Decade Is Crucial, U.N. Panel Says.

A new report says it is still possible to hold global warming to relatively safe levels, but doing so will require global cooperation, billions of dollars and big changes.

Hoesung Lee, in a dark business suit, a red tie and glasses, stands before microphones at a white lectern on a stage with a blue background.

By Brad Plumer

Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade, and nations will need to make an immediate and drastic shift away from fossil fuels to prevent the planet from overheating dangerously beyond that level, according to a major new report released on Monday .

The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations, offers the most comprehensive understanding to date of ways in which the planet is changing. It says that global average temperatures are estimated to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels sometime around “the first half of the 2030s,” as humans continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas.

That number holds a special significance in global climate politics : Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, virtually every nation agreed to “pursue efforts” to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that point, scientists say, the impacts of catastrophic heat waves, flooding, drought, crop failures and species extinction become significantly harder for humanity to handle.

But Earth has already warmed an average of 1.1 degrees Celsius since the industrial age, and, with global fossil-fuel emissions setting records last year , that goal is quickly slipping out of reach.

There is still one last chance to shift course, the new report says. But it would require industrialized nations to join together immediately to slash greenhouse gases roughly in half by 2030 and then stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere altogether by the early 2050s. If those two steps were taken, the world would have about a 50 percent chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Delays of even a few years would most likely make that goal unattainable, guaranteeing a hotter, more perilous future.

“The pace and scale of what has been done so far and current plans are insufficient to tackle climate change,” said Hoesung Lee, the chair of the climate panel. “We are walking when we should be sprinting.”

The report comes as the world’s two biggest polluters, China and the United States, continue to approve new fossil fuel projects. Last year, China issued permits for 168 coal-fired power plants of various sizes , according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Finland. Last week, the Biden administration approved an enormous oil drilling project known as Willow that will take place on pristine federal land in Alaska .

The report, which was approved by 195 governments, says that existing and currently planned fossil fuel infrastructure — coal-fired power plants, oil wells, factories, cars and trucks across the globe — will already produce enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet roughly 2 degrees Celsius this century. To keep warming below that level, many of those projects would need to be canceled, retired early or otherwise cleaned up.

“The 1.5 degree limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action,” António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said. In response to the report, Mr. Guterres called on countries to stop building new coal plants and to stop approving new oil and gas projects.  

Many scientists have pointed out that surpassing the 1.5 degree threshold will not mean humanity is doomed. But every fraction of a degree of additional warming is expected to increase the severity of dangers that people around the world face, such as water scarcity, malnutrition and deadly heat waves.

The difference between 1.5 degrees of warming and 2 degrees might mean that tens of millions more people worldwide experience life-threatening heat waves, water shortages and coastal flooding. A 1.5-degree world might still have coral reefs and summer Arctic sea ice, while a 2-degree world most likely would not.

“It’s not that if we go past 1.5 degrees everything is lost,” said Joeri Rogelj, director of research at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London. “But there’s clear evidence that 1.5 is better than 1.6, which is better than 1.7, and so on. The point is we need to do everything we can to keep warming as low as possible.”

Scientists say that warming will largely halt once humans stop adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, a concept known as “net zero” emissions. How quickly nations reach net zero will determine how hot the planet ultimately becomes. Under the current policies of national governments, Earth is on pace to heat up by 2.1 to 2.9 degrees Celsius this century, analysts have estimated .

Both the United States and European Union have set goals of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while China has set a 2060 goal and India is aiming for 2070. But in light of the report’s findings, Mr. Guterres said, all countries should move faster and wealthy countries should aim to reach net zero by 2040.

The new report is a synthesis of six previous landmark reports on climate change issued by the U.N. panel since 2018, each one compiled by hundreds of experts across the globe, approved by 195 countries and based on thousands of scientific studies. Taken together, the reports represent the most comprehensive look to date at the causes of global warming , the impacts that rising temperatures are having on people and ecosystems across the world and the strategies that countries can pursue to halt global warming .

The report makes clear that humanity’s actions today have the potential to fundamentally reshape the planet for thousands of years.

Many of the most dire climate scenarios once feared by scientists, such as those forecasting warming of 4 degrees Celsius or more, now look unlikely, as nations have invested more heavily in clean energy . At least 18 countries, including the United States, have managed to reduce their emissions for more than a decade, the report finds, while the costs of solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles have plummeted.

At the same time, even relatively modest increases in global temperature are now expected to be more disruptive than previously thought, the report concludes.

At current levels of warming, for instance, food production is starting to come under strain. The world is still producing more food each year, thanks to improvements in farming and crop technology, but climate change has slowed the rate of growth, the report says. It’s an ominous trend that puts food security at risk as the world’s population soars past eight billion people.

Today, the world is seeing record-shattering storms in California and catastrophic drought in places like East Africa . But by the 2030s, as temperatures rise, climate hazards are expected to increase all over the globe as different countries face more crippling heat waves, worsening coastal flooding and crop failures, the report says. At the same time, mosquitoes carrying diseases like malaria and dengue will spread into new areas, it adds.

Nations have made some strides in preparing for the dangers of global warming, the report says, for instance by building coastal barriers against rising oceans or establishing early-warning systems for future storms. But many of those adaptation efforts are “incremental” and lack sufficient funding, particularly in poorer countries, the report finds.

And if temperatures keep rising, many parts of the world may soon face limits in how much they can adapt. Beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, low-lying island nations and communities that depend on glaciers may face severe freshwater shortages.

To stave off a chaotic future, the report recommends that nations move away from the fossil fuels that have underpinned economies for more than 180 years.

Governments and companies would need to invest three to six times the roughly $600 billion they now spend annually on encouraging clean energy in order to hold global warming at 1.5 or 2 degrees, the report says. While there is currently enough global capital to do so, much of it is difficult for developing countries to acquire. The question of what wealthy, industrialized nations owe to poor, developing countries has been divisive at global climate negotiations.

A wide array of strategies are available for reducing fossil-fuel emissions, such as scaling up wind and solar power, shifting to electric vehicles and electric heat pumps in buildings, curbing methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and protecting forests.

But that may not be enough: Countries may also have to remove billions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, relying on technology that barely exists today .

The report acknowledges the enormous challenges ahead. Winding down coal, oil and gas projects would mean job losses and economic dislocation. Some climate solutions come with difficult trade-offs: Protecting forests, for instance, means less land for agriculture; manufacturing electric vehicles requires mining metals for use in their batteries.

And because nations have waited so long to cut emissions, they will have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to adapt to climate risks that are now unavoidable.

The new report is expected to inform the next round of United Nations climate talks this December in Dubai, where world leaders will gather to assess their progress in tackling global warming. At last year’s climate talks in Sharm el Sheik, language calling for an end to fossil fuels was struck from the final agreement after pressure from several oil-producing nations.

“Without a radical shift away from fossil fuels over the next few years, the world is certain to blow past the 1.5 C goal.” said Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. “The I.P.C.C. makes plain that continuing to build new unabated fossil fuel power plants would seal that fate,” he added, using the abbreviation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, responded by saying that oil and gas companies were working on technologies to curb emissions such as carbon capture, but that policymakers “must also consider the importance of adequate, affordable and reliable energy to meet growing global needs,” said Christina Noel, a spokesperson for the institute.

While the next decade is almost certain to be hotter, scientists said the main takeaway from the report should be that nations still have enormous influence over the climate for the rest of the century.

The report “is quite clear that whatever future we end up with is within our control,” said Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who helped write one of the panel’s earlier reports. “It is up to humanity,” he added, “to determine what we end up with.”

Brad Plumer is a climate reporter specializing in policy and technology efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions. At The Times, he has also covered international climate talks and the changing energy landscape in the United States. More about Brad Plumer

Learn More About Climate Change

Have questions about climate change? Our F.A.Q. will tackle your climate questions, big and small .

The Italian energy giant Eni sees future profits from collecting carbon dioxide and pumping it into  natural gas fields that have been exhausted.

”Buying Time,” a new series from The New York Times, looks at the risky ways  humans are starting to manipulate nature  to fight climate change.

Ocean Conservation Namibia is disentangling a record number of seals, while broadcasting the perils of marine debris in a largely feel-good way. Here’s how .

New satellite-based research reveals how land along the East Coast is slumping into the ocean, compounding the danger from global sea level rise . A major culprit: the overpumping of groundwater.

Did you know the ♻ symbol doesn’t mean something is actually recyclable ? Read on about how we got here, and what can be done.

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How is climate change impacting the world’s ocean

The ocean has long taken the brunt of the impacts of human-made global warming, says UN Climate Change . As the planet’s greatest carbon sink, the ocean absorbs excess heat and energy released from rising greenhouse gas emissions trapped in the Earth’s system. Today, the ocean has absorbed about 90 percent of the heat generated by rising emissions. 

As the excessive heat and energy warms the ocean, the change in temperature leads to unparalleled cascading effects, including ice-melting, sea-level rise, marine heatwaves, and ocean acidification. 

These changes ultimately cause a lasting impact on marine biodiversity, and the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities and beyond - including around 680 million people living in low-lying coastal areas, almost 2 billion who live in half of the world’s megacities that are coastal, nearly half of the world’s population (3.3 billion) that depends on fish for protein, and almost 60 million people who work in fisheries and the aquaculture sector worldwide. 

Here are some of the major consequences of the impacts of climate change on the ocean.

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Sea-level rise

Sea-level rise has accelerated in recent decades due to increasing ice loss in the world’s polar regions. Latest data from the World Meteorological Organization shows that global mean sea-level reached a new record high in 2021, rising an average of 4.5 millimeter per year over the period 2013 to 2021. 

Together with intensifying tropical cyclones, sea-level rise has exacerbated extreme events such as deadly storm surges and coastal hazards such as flooding, erosion and landslides, which are now projected to occur at least once a year in many locations. Such events occurred once per century historically.

Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that several regions, such as the western Tropical Pacific, the South-west Pacific, the North Pacific, the South-west Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, face substantially faster sea-level rise.  

photocomposition: a turtle swimming in the ocean

Marine heatwaves

Marine heatwaves have doubled in frequency, and have become longer-lasting, more intense and extensive. The IPCC says that human influence has been the main driver of the ocean heat increase observed since the 1970s. 

The majority of heatwaves took place between 2006 and 2015, causing widespread coral bleaching and reef degradation. In 2021, nearly 60 percent of the world’s ocean surface experienced at least one spell of marine heatwaves. The UN Environment Programme says that every one of the world’s coral reefs could bleach by the end of the century if the water continues to warm. 

Coral bleaching occurs as reefs lose their life-sustaining microscopic algae when under stress. The last global bleaching event started in 2014 and extended well into 2017 - spreading across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.   

Loss of marine biodiversity

Rising temperatures increase the risk of irreversible loss of marine and coastal ecosystems . Today, widespread changes have been observed, including damage to coral reefs and mangroves that support ocean life, and migration of species to higher latitudes and altitudes where the water could be cooler.  Latest estimates from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization warn that more than half of the world’s marine species may stand on the brink of extinction by 2100. At a 1.1°C  increase in temperature today, an estimated 60 percent of the world's marine ecosystems have already been degraded or are being used unsustainably. A warming of 1.5°C threatens to destroy 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs , and a 2°C increase means a nearly 100 percent loss - a point of no return.

photocomposition: a turtle swimming in the ocean

The ocean – the world’s greatest ally against climate change

The ocean is central to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Here are a few reasons we need to safeguard the ocean as our best ally for climate solutions.

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Peter Thomson: Moving the needle on the sustainable blue economy

Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, mobilizes global action to conserve and sustainably use the ocean. Read the full interview.

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Forget ‘doomers.’ Warming can be stopped, top climate scientist says

Michael Mann points to prehistoric catastrophes, modern environmental victories

Alvin Powell

Harvard Staff Writer

Keeping the Earth’s warming below the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold that scientists believe will stave off climate change’s worst effects is a tall task, but one of the world’s top climate scientists believes climate “doomism” won’t help the fight. And Michael Mann is all about the fight.

“I push back on doomism because I don’t think it’s justified by the science, and I think it potentially leads us down a path of inaction,” said Mann during a talk last Thursday at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs . “And there are bad actors today who are fanning the flames of climate doomism because they understand that it takes those who are most likely to be on the front lines, advocating for change, and pushes them to the sidelines, which is where polluters and petrostates want them.”

“I push back on doomism because I don’t think it’s justified by the science, and I think it potentially leads us down a path of inaction.” Michael Mann

One recent victory for the University of Pennsylvania professor stems back to 2012, when climate change deniers and critics of his work wrote blog posts accusing him of scientific fraud. Mann demanded retractions. They refused, and he sued them for defamation. The case dragged on for years, but in February, Mann won $1,000 in punitive damages from one blogger and $1 million from the second.

Mann’s lecture, “ Can Lessons from Earth’s Past Help Us Survive Our Current Climate Crisis? ,” sought lessons from past climate change events in the Earth’s history, encompassing the demise of non-avian dinosaurs, the “Great Dying” 250 million years ago, pop musicians The Police — who sang of doomed dinosaurs — and famed astronomer Carl Sagan.

Mann, whose most recent book, “Our Fragile Moment,” was published in September, said the demise of the dinosaurs offers an example of the potentially deadly impact of climate change — in that case, from global cooling.

It is believed that a comet struck the Earth 65 million years ago, resulting in the death of non-avian dinosaurs. Most of them were not killed by the strike itself, but the drop in temperature caused by the rise of dust from the impact, which blocked the sun.

Small mammals, able to shelter in burrows, did survive, beginning an evolutionary process that would lead to humans. Sagan, the late scientist and science communicator, warned of a similar effect in the event of global nuclear war, which would likely bring on “nuclear winter” severe enough to bring on an extinction event.

Mann also discussed the “Great Dying,” which killed some 90 percent of species. It took place at a time when the Earth’s temperature spiked relatively suddenly in geologic terms. He said it was likely brought on by carbon dioxide being released in a major outbreak of volcanism that stretched thousands of years.

The current human-induced climate change has parallels to that time but is occurring much more rapidly, over tens of years rather than thousands.

“Warming today is hundreds of times faster than any warming in geological history,” Mann said, adding that the direction of the temperature swing — warmer or cooler — doesn’t matter. “Anything that takes you from the climate you’re adapted to is a threat.”

Mann’s work brought that point home back in 1999, when he and colleagues published a reconstruction of climate for the past 1,000 years. They used statistical methods they’d devised to combine climate proxies like ancient tree ring data, ice cores, and lake sediment into a single picture of the Earth’s climate history.

Represented graphically, the global mean temperature data resembled a hockey stick, with centuries of slowly declining temperatures making up the long handle and the sharp uptick in temperatures since the Industrial Revolution making up the blade. That “hockey stick” graph has since been hailed as evidence that the recent decades’ warming is neither natural nor a figment of scientists’ imagination.

During the event, Mann said the “Great Dying” era offers other lessons because it has been theorized that the warming was due to a major release of methane from the ocean, and some climate pessimists, whom he called “doomers,” believe a similar dynamic is already at work today, at least partly due to thawing of the arctic permafrost. In fact, he said they believe that enough methane has been released that it is already too late to avoid extinction-level warming.

Mann rebuts this view, noting it is inconsistent with the latest scientific understanding of the ancient event as well as evidence about today’s situation. And it serves as a distraction at a time when urgent action is needed.

Many have noted the already-existing anxiety about climate change inaction among today’s youth. Mann said in the interview during his campus visit that he would hope examples of the past will energize them rather than make them feel helpless.

Younger people today, he said, haven’t lived through high-profile environmental crises of the past, such as water pollution like that of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River, once so full of industrial pollutants it periodically caught fire; power plant emissions, which created acid rain that damaged downwind forests and made lakes acidic; and the creation of a massive hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer, which threatened to raise cancer rates around the Southern Hemisphere.

Each of those problems, while not on the scale of climate change, was analyzed by scientists and solved by policy: the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the international Montreal Protocol.

Mann’s talk wassponsored by the Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program and its Arctic Initiative ; the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy ; the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability , and the HKS Climate, Energy, & Environment Professional Interest Council .

It was introduced by Henry Lee , director of the Environment and Natural Resources Program, and by Shorenstein Center senior fellow Cristine Russell , who engaged Mann in a question and answer session after his talk.

Mann noted that a difficult road lies ahead, but there is time still to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. He cited as encouraging the U.S. passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — which contains significant provisions to fight climate change — and the global agreement in 2021’s COP 26, whose commitments, if enacted, would limit warming to 2 degrees C, which Mann acknowledged is still too high.

“It’s not too late for us to take the actions to keep warming below 1.5 Celsius. The obstacles at this point aren’t physical, they are not technological, they are entirely political,” he said. “And political obstacles can be overcome.”

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Global warming or climate change has today become a major threat to the mankind. The Earth’s temperature is on the rise and there are various reasons for it such as greenhouse gases emanating from carbon dioxide ($CO_2$) emissions, burning of fossil fuels or deforestation. 

Impact of Greenhouse Gases

The rise in the levels of carbon dioxide ($CO_2$) leads to substantial increase in temperature. It is because $CO_2$ remains concentrated in the atmosphere for even hundreds of years. Due to activities like fossil fuel combustion for electricity generation, transportation, and heating, human beings have contributed to increase in the $CO_2$ concentration in the atmosphere.

Global Warming: A Gradual Phenomenon

Recent years have been unusually warm, causing worldwide concern. But the fact is that the increase in carbon dioxide actually began in 1800, due to the deforestation of a large chunk of North-eastern American, besides forested parts of the world. The things became worse with emissions in the wake of the industrial revolution, leading to increase in carbon dioxide level by 1900.

Cause of Concern

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperature is likely to rise by about 1-3.5 Celsius by the year 2100. It has also suggested that the climate might warm by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years.

Impact of Global Warming

The sea levels are constantly rising as fresh water marshlands, low-lying cities, and islands have been inundated with seawater.

There have been changes in rainfall patterns, leading to droughts and fires in some areas, and flooding in other areas.

Ice caps are constantly melting posing a threat to polar bears as their feeding season stands reduced.

Glaciers are gradually melting.

Animal populations are gradually vanishing as there has been a widespread loss of their habitat.

As per Kyoto protocol, developed countries are required to cut back their emissions. There is a need to reduce coal-fired electricity, increase energy efficiency through wind and solar power, and also high efficiency natural gas generation

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People walk past a partially frozen canal against a sunny sky.

How global warming is reshaping winter life in Canada

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Professor and Climate Scientist, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University

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PhD Candidate, Geography, Planning, and Environment Department, Concordia University

Disclosure statement

H. Damon Matthews receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Mitchell Dickau receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Concordia University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA.

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As we begin to emerge out of yet another mild winter, Canadians are once again being reminded of just how acutely global warming has changed Canada’s winter climate.

The impacts of this mild winter were felt across the country and touched all aspects of winter culture. From melting ice castles at Québec’s winter carnival , to a dismal lack of snow at many Western Canada ski resorts , seemingly no part of Canada was unaffected. But the change that will likely be felt most keenly by many Canadians is the loss of a reliable outdoor skating season .

Read more: COP28: Why we need to break our addiction to combustion

For the second year running, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway was closed for what should be the peak of the skating season. In 2022-2023, the Skateway did not open at all for the first time ever. This winter, a portion of the Skateway opened briefly in January, but continuing mild temperatures forced a closure again after only four days of skating. In Montréal, fewer than 40 per cent of the city’s outdoor rinks were open in the middle of February.

There is no obvious upside to this story. Outdoor skating in Canada is fast becoming the latest casualty of our failure to confront the reality of the climate crisis.

On thin ice

More than a decade ago, our research group published our first analysis of how outdoor skating was being affected by warming winter temperatures in Canada. We showed that even as of 2005, there was already evidence of later start dates, and shorter skating seasons across most of the country.

These conclusions were echoed by subsequent publications from the RinkWatch project , which has reported consistent declines in skating season length and quality in many Canadian cities.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, skating days on the Rideau Canal Skateway have been trending downwards over the last 20 years. In this time, the typical skating season has decreased by almost 40 per cent, a trend that is clearly correlated with increasing winter temperatures over the same period.

Moving in the wrong direction

Climate mitigation progress continues to be far too slow.

Global CO2 emissions reached their highest level ever recorded in 2023 , and average global temperatures have now reached 1.3 C above pre-industrial temperatures . If these trends continue, we are on track to reach 1.5 C — the lower threshold of the Paris Agreement temperature target — in less than seven years .

In our 2012 paper , we estimated that suitable rink flooding days could disappear across most of southern Canada by mid-century. In a more recent analysis of Montréal’s outdoor rinks , we estimated that the number of viable skating days in Montréal could decrease to zero by as early as 2070.

Chart showing skating days at the Rideau Canal over time.

In hindsight, these and other similar projections may have been far too optimistic. In a study of Rideau canal skating days published in 2015 , the authors projected declining but sustained skating conditions throughout this century, even in a high future emissions scenario. The reality of the past two seasons shows that skating conditions have deteriorated far more quickly than predicted.

Global temperatures in 2023 were the highest ever recorded, as were winter temperatures in December 2023 and January 2024. Since 1950, winter temperatures in Canada have increased by more than 3 C, which is about three times the rate of global warming over this same period .

Outdoor rinks require at least three consecutive very cold days to establish a foundation of ice, followed by enough cold days to maintain a good ice surface. Temperatures above freezing are poorly tolerated by outdoor rinks, and rain is often disastrous.

A chart showing monthly average temperatures from 1880 to 2024

A few degrees of warming in January and February temperatures can be the difference between a rink that is skatable and one that is not. As winters continue to warm, the case for building and maintaining outdoor municipal rinks will become harder to justify.

A stark and still changing new reality

As years go by without any real progress on climate mitigation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a future in which outdoor rinks will be widely available without artificial refrigeration. Other winter activities will also be affected by changing snow conditions, but outdoor skating will likely be hit first in direct response to warming winter temperatures.

Wayne Gretzky famously learned to skate and play hockey in Branford, Ont. in the 1960s on an outdoor rink built by his father . Reliable winter skating conditions in southern Ontario are already mostly a thing of the past, and are becoming more and more scarce as global warming progresses. It is increasingly unlikely that current and future generations will be able to follow Gretzky’s path.

Read more: Could the good news story about the ecological crisis be the collective grief we are feeling?

This reality is both a tragic injustice for many young Canadians and an existential threat to a core aspect of the Canadian winter identity.

Preserving what remains of Canada’s winter skating culture will require that we rapidly step up our efforts to drive down CO2 emissions and stabilize global temperatures. Otherwise, Joni Mitchell’s “ river I could skate away on ” will become an increasingly wishful dream that soon will exist only in the lyrics of old songs.

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Global Warming Will Enable Tropical Species From the Atlantic to Colonize the Mediterranean Sea

A new study documents large-scale ocean system changes that threaten the stability of marine ecosystems in the sea between europe, africa and the middle east..

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A school of fish is seen off the coast of southeastern France. Global warming is driving a dramatic shift of species in the Mediterranean and could lead to mass extinctions in the worst-case outcome. Credit: Alessandro Rota/Getty Images

Global Warming Could Drive Locust Outbreaks into New Regions, Study Warns

A swarm of desert locusts flying in Meru, Kenya on Feb. 9, 2021. Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

Extreme Climate Impacts From Collapse of a Key Atlantic Ocean Current Could be Worse Than Expected, a New Study Warns

The current rate of ocean warming could bring the greatest extinction of sealife in 250 million years.

Tons of dead fish float on the waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, beside the Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 13, 2013. Credit: Christophe Simon/AFP via Getty Images

If global warming continues at its current pace, a new study warns, tropical species could take over parts of Mediterranean marine ecosystems by the end of the century.

The research analyzed a detailed fossil record showing how tropical mollusks replaced then-existing Mediterranean populations starting about 135,000 years ago, signaling a dramatic climate-driven and systemic reorganization of biodiversity.

During that interglacial warm phase, Earth’s temperature reached the low end of the range expected by 2100 under a moderate warming scenario, said the study’s lead author, Paolo Albano , a senior scientist with the National Institute of Marine Biology, Ecology and Biotechnology in Naples, Italy.

The November 2023 United Nations Emissions Gap report said the world will warm between 2.5 degrees Celsius and 2.9 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average by the end of the century.

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Albano said that when the researchers matched their fossil record with climate data in a model, it showed that level of warming will probably break down a barrier of cold water along the northwest coast of Africa that has blocked nearly all tropical species from reaching and entering the Mediterranean through the eight-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar.

“There is a very large upwelling system where deep, cold water emerges,” Albano said. “This hinders the arrival of purely tropical species from Western Africa. And the question was, how long can this barrier hold and what happens with increasing warming? When would this area become warm enough to allow tropical species to come into the Mediterranean?”

The fossil record shows that iconic tropical species like spiky comb shells and large conchs lived in the Mediterranean during that geologically recent warm era, similar to the current climate. 

“This family of gastropods is very famous among paleontologists,” he said. “It really marks tropical conditions that were there at the time, and may come back.”

A related species from the Pacific, the Persian conch, has already spread to the eastern Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, he added.

A Conservation Opportunity? 

The study is globally significant because it “illuminates the really profound impacts that human activities have, and will have, on ocean ecosystems,” said Aaron O’Dea , a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who was not involved in the study.

“This process will lead to entirely new compositions of biological communities, like never seen before,” he said. “It serves as a glimpse into the future, and in doing so, prompts us to reassess conservation strategies and what we consider natural.”

He said the findings of the new study “intriguingly” suggest that an influx of new species could enhance biodiversity and functional richness of ecosystems, but only up to a point. Unchecked warming beyond 2100 would devastate most ocean ecosystems. 

But if the global temperature is stabilized per current net zero commitments, scientists, ocean stewards and resource managers should consider whether “this increase in diversity and filling of empty niches is something we could take advantage of,” he said.

“This process will lead to entirely new compositions of biological communities, like never seen before.”

In a global context, it’s important to remember that the equatorial oceans will lose species as they keep heating, he said.

“If warming continues without respite, the tropics will become depauperate,” he said. “Looking back into the fossil record when the oceans were last very warm, the tropics had lower diversity.”

A 2022 research paper documented five consecutive years of marine mass mortality events in the Mediterranean between 2015 and 2019. Its authors concluded that the sea is “experiencing an acceleration of the ecological impacts of [marine heatwaves], which poses an unprecedented threat to its ecosystems’ health and functioning.”

In 2023, another research team studied regional marine bird mass mortalities linked to ocean heat waves, noting “more frequent large-scale mortality events and the potential for a new lower carrying capacity for marine birds in the Northeast Pacific.”

There’s also research showing that global warming makes several types of marine animals more susceptible to spreading disease like avian influenza by crowding animals together in breeding and feeding areas, or changing migration patterns. Avian influenza was recently reported in Antarctic penguin populations for the first time, and also killed marine mammals along the Pacific Coast of South America.

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Extreme growth of seaweeds and jellyfish, and mass mortalities like those from starfish wasting disease along the Pacific Coast of North America, have also been linked with global warming.

Some researchers connecting those dots worry that the current rate of warming could make the oceans as warm, acidic and oxygen-starved as during the end-Permian Extinction, 250 million years ago, when up to 90 percent of marine species died.  

Some Shells Vanish in Tide of Climate Shifts

A large-scale biological shift is already under way at the far eastern end of the 2,400-mile-long Mediterranean, especially along the shallow coastal shelf near Israel, one of the marine regions that has warmed the most and the fastest.

Tropical species from the Pacific Ocean have been colonizing this part of the Mediterranean since the Suez Canal was built, swimming and hitchhiking their way along the 120-mile-long waterway. 

At least 1,000 species have migrated to the Mediterranean this way, including several species of Pacific prawns that are now a valuable Egyptian fishery, but that displaced a local species that had been an important Israeli fishery. The new species also brought potentially damaging parasites with them from the Pacific.

Fossilized shells in the coastal rocks around the Mediterranean show that tropical mollusks moved into the region during a previous warm climate phase. Credit: Bob Berwyn/Inside Climate News

Albano said his first research trip to the region was to study the migration through the Suez Canal.

“The first time I put my feet into the water, I realized that the Israeli Mediterranean is not Mediterranean anymore,” he said. “Not so much because of the presence of these Red Sea species, which was expected. Because there were almost no native species anymore. Wow.” 

Later, he realized that this was mainly the outcome of global warming.

“The one degree of global warming that we have already secured … is enough to drive the native species to local eradication,” he said. “That increased my awareness of the problem. You know, when you touch something with your own hands, it’s different. And when it comes to the mollusks, my specialty, from limpets on the intertidal rocks to what you could find out at sea, you will really probably only find Red Sea species.”

Also striking is what has gone missing in recent decades, he added. One example is a common family of colored spiral shells that was used for thousands of years by people in the region to make purple dye.

Just to color one simple piece of fabric requires a huge amount of shells, so at one time, they were likely a predominant mollusk.

“When I was a child there, collecting there, it was so easy to find them, in shallow water on every rock one or two. It was really a common species and history tells us how important it was in the past,” he said. “And now there is nothing.”

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  22. Warming can be stopped, top climate scientist says

    Harvard Staff Writer. April 3, 2024 6 min read. Keeping the Earth's warming below the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold that scientists believe will stave off climate change's worst effects is a tall task, but one of the world's top climate scientists believes climate "doomism" won't help the fight. And Michael Mann is all about the fight.

  23. Write an article on Global warming in about 200 words

    Cause of Concern. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global temperature is likely to rise by about 1-3.5 Celsius by the year 2100. It has also suggested that the climate might warm by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years. Impact of Global Warming. The sea levels are constantly rising as fresh ...

  24. How global warming is reshaping winter life in Canada

    Global temperatures in 2023 were the highest ever recorded, as were winter temperatures in December 2023 and January 2024. Since 1950, winter temperatures in Canada have increased by more than 3 C ...

  25. Global Warming Will Enable Tropical Species From the Atlantic to

    If global warming continues at its current pace, a new study warns, tropical species could take over parts of Mediterranean marine ecosystems by the end of the century.. The research analyzed a ...