2015 is a crucial year for the climate. In December, governments came together in Paris to strike a new deal for the climate – we must make our voices heard. The world leaders have discussed the effect of climate change in Paris to agree a deal to cut emissions and stop the world sliding into climate chaos. Across the world there is a wave of mass protests for urgent climate action.
COP 21, the annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has started and this year’s talks and negotiations are particularly vital to the future of climate change as they represent a critical opportunity for a global agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C. How will climate change affect me? My community? The environment around me?
These are the serious questions which are being asked by people today. Global climate change will affect people and the environment in many ways. Some of these impacts, like stronger hurricanes and severe heat waves, could be life threatening. As the Earth keeps getting warmer, the negative effects are expected to outweigh the positive ones.
The more we learn about how climate change will affect people and the environment, the more we can see why people need to take action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. We can also take steps by self to prepare for the changes we know are coming.
Over the past 150 years, we’ve changed the balance of our planet by living beyond our means. In fact, we’re living as if we had 1.5 planets! We’ve burnt huge amounts of fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, gas), bred vast amounts of methane- producing livestock and cut down vast amounts of forests, which would naturally absorb carbon dioxide from the air. Climate change is affecting our brilliant planet in lots of ways.
Image credit: Left – Mellimage/Shutterstock.com, center – Montree Hanlue/Shutterstock.com.
Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.
A warming atmosphere leaves little unscathed. Because there are so many impacts of climate change, scientists have broadly categorized them into three areas:
- Erratic climate and weather extremes
- Altered ecosystems and habitats
- Risks to human health and society
Climate change is having serious and unpredictable impacts on the world’s water systems through more flooding and droughts.
It’s impacting on rivers and lakes – which supply drinking water for people and animals – and are a vital resource for farming and industry. And it threatens food chains in our oceans and seas, which sustain a large proportion of life on Earth.
Emissions of heat-trapping gases from human activity—especially the burning of fossil fuels for energy—cause our atmosphere to heat up. This atmospheric heating unleashes a torrent of rapid changes to the way water systems typically function on our planet.
As climatic patterns rapidly shift, habitats on land and in the sea are changing, making them inhospitable for some species, while letting others move in and take over. In some cases, entire ecosystems are at risk of collapsing.
Human life is thrown out of balance, too. One of the biggest impacts? Where, how, and when we grow food, which is vitally connected to our climate’s normal patterns.
More extreme weather also means we face increased pressure on our health, infrastructure, and economy.
If we don’t rein in heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation now, these impacts will only intensify. You can help by supporting measures to make polluters reduce climate emissions.
Climate change can be a driver of disease migration, as well as exacerbate health effects resulting from the release of toxic air pollutants in vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with asthma or cardiovascular disease.
The magnitude of climate change beyond the next few decades depends primarily on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, and how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to those emissions. The Arctic Ocean is expected to become essentially ice-free in summer before mid-century.
Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record-keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100. This is the result of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms, reported by the Third National Climate Assessment Report.
Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.
According to the IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change.
The IPCC predicts that increases in global mean temperature of less than 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) above 1990 levels will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Net annual costs will increase over time as global temperatures increase.
We want the government to act on climate change. Not just to do something – to do enough to avoid climate chaos. This means investment not in new fossil fuels but in renewables – massive amounts. It means saving energy by insulating and converting all homes and all public and private buildings, and a shift from cars to public transport.
There are a lot of things that can be done to reduce the effect of climate change on the environment. It requires strong self-commitment and support from everyone who is, directly and indirectly, involved in increasing the carbon footprint in the atmosphere.