Climate change is the biggest threat to mankind, and contrary to the popular belief that it is an abstract concept and a problem a few decades away, it is now looming upon us. The impacts of climate change—flooding, long droughts, increasing global temperature, rising sea levels, increasing frequency of intense typhoons, changing weather patterns, to name a few—exacerbate the existing global problems of food security, water scarcity, forced migration, conflict over resources, poverty, and environmental degradation.
It is an irrefutable fact that climate change is real, and it is affecting all life on earth.
The past five years—from 2014 to 2018—have been the warmest in the 139-year climate record of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with global temperatures averaging 1.04±0.09 °C above pre-industrial levels. This is caused by the large amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which was 410 parts per million as of January 2019—the highest it has been in three million years. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recorded that 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2000. If this warming continues, the effects of climate change could drive 100 million more people into poverty by 2030.
The impact of a warming climate on agriculture affects global food security, with the number of undernourished people rising to 821 million in 2017.
It has also forced rural outmigration: Of the 17 million internally displaced persons tracked by the International Organization for Migration, 2.3 million had been displaced due to climate-related disasters.
Our oceans absorb one-third of the 200 years’ worth of carbon dioxide produced by human activities and 90 percent of the energy trapped by the rising concentration of greenhouse gases. Through the years, this heat and energy build up in the ocean and fuel more extreme weather events, such as the massively destructive typhoons occurring more frequently now. In 2018 alone, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction recorded extreme weather events that affected over 60 million people all over the world.
Recognizing the urgency and magnitude of this threat, 195 nations adopted the Paris Agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 2015. The historic accord aimed to limit global average temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue a 1.5°C global average temperature rise.
To achieve this, developed nations must make good on their pledge to raise US$100 billion by 2020, facilitated by the Green Climate Fund, to pave the way for a rapid global transition to a low carbon, climate-resilient development, and help vulnerable nations survive the impacts of climate change.
At A Glance: IPCC Special Report 2018
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report detailing the effects of global warming at 1.5°C and at 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The consequences of the half-degree difference in temperature rise are substantial, and in some cases, spell the life and death of ecosystems.
Small Island Nations and Least Developed Countries will experience high multiple interrelated climate risks with global warming of 1.5°C, driving more people into poverty. At 2°C of global warming, adaptation would be far more challenging for ecosystems, food and health systems, and several hundred million more people could go poor by 2050.
Below is a quick look at the impacts of global warming at different temperature increases.
|Extreme cold and hot days||Extreme hot days will be up to 4°C hotter and cold nights up to 6 °C warmer. The heat will be especially felt in the tropics.|
|Transformation of ecosystems||13 percent of global land area will see a transformation of ecosystems from one type to another. Area at risk is 50 percent greater than in 1.5 °C of warming.|
|Social impacts||10 million more people will be exposed to risks associated with rising sea levels, such as increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure, compared with sea level rise at 1.5°C.|
|Global biodiversity||18 percent of insects, 16 percent of plants and 8 percent of vertebrates will lose their climatically determined geographic range.|
|Ice-free Arctic summer||One sea ice-free Arctic summer is projected per decade.|
|Coral reefs||More than 99 percent of coral reefs will be lost.|
|Fisheries||Marine fish catch will decrease by 3 million tons.|
|Extreme cold and hot days||Extreme hot days will be up to 3°C hotter and cold nights up to 4.5 °C warmer.|
|Transformation of ecosystems||4 percent of global land area will see a transformation of ecosystems from one type to another.|
|Social impacts||By 2100, global mean sea level rise is projected to be 0.26-0.77 meter or around 0.1 m lower than with global warming of 2°C.|
|Global biodiversity||6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants and 4 percent of vertebrates will lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range if the planet warms by 1°C.|
|Ice-free Arctic summer||One sea ice-free Arctic summer is projected per century.|
|Coral reefs||Coral reefs will decline by 70–90 percent.|
|Fisheries||The global annual catch for marine fisheries will decrease by 1.5 million tons.|
Current commitments under the Paris Agreement will lead to a staggering 3.7°C rise in temperature. To limit global warming to 1.5 C, carbon dioxide emissions must decline by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero around 2050.
This will require global investments of US$2.4 trillion annually from 2016-2035.