Having described Climate Change on the page Fact or Fiction, an overview is given here on the impact of Climate Change on our society in the near and distant future.

Impact of Climate Change

 
In short - Overview

Lower in this section, you will find how Climate Change  will show itself in terms of temperature rise, sea level rise, migration, agriculture and conflict.


The tables on the right give an overview of what will happen for 2 different scenarios:
 

  • Limiting Global Warming to +2°C
    (drastically changing our ways)

  • Global Warming reaching +4 °C
    (coming short of drastic change)

 
Temperature Rise

You may have heard scientists talk about limiting temperature increase to 2°C.  That doesn't sound much, but these are average global temperatures over land and sea. What does that mean for where I live?

The picture on the right shows the global change in temperature for the different regions of the world for different scenarios.

For Europe and North America, climate scientists predict the following:

  • Best case scenario (RCP2.6):

Average temperatures rise about 2 °C by 2100

video


 

  • We don't change our behavior (RCP8.5):

Average temperatures rise about 5°C by 2100

Average temperatures rise about 10 °C by 2200 

video

Source - IPCC 4th Assessment Report

Sources:

Source - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Source - National Geographic

 
Sea Level Rise

It does not seem very hard to understand: Climate Change is heating up our atmosphere, ice is melting and sea water level will rise.

Although melting ice is certainly contributing to the rise of sea water level, the most important factor is actually the expansion of the sea water itself. Like almost all materials, water takes up more space when it's heated.

 

But in the case of our oceans, the amount of water is so vast and reaches so deep under the surface, that the response is slow. When heating water for cooking, it takes long to heat, but once the temperature is reached, it stays warm for a long time.

This is why our scientists are virtually certain that water levels will continue to rise for many centuries, long after we have stopped  producing greenhouse gases (GHG), displacing hundreds of millions of people in its process.

In other words: How we act in the next years and decades will lock us into a future sea level for the next centuries (Lock-in, meaning an irreversible change for the next centuries to come):

Depending on the path we choose, by 2100 global sea level will have increased by:

 

A very good way of visualizing our future sea level, can be found on the  website Climate Central. Look up the region where you live and the ones that are highly populated and see for yourself how drastically this would change our society.

  • Best case scenario (RCP2.6):
     

Sea level rises with 0.5m by 2100

Future irreversible sea level rise of 5m

 

  • We don't change our behavior (RCP8.5):

Sea level rises with 1m by 2100

Future irreversible sea level rise of 9m

Source - Climate Central

Sources:

Source - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Source - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Source - Climate Central

 

 

 
Future Migration

It is difficult to determine exactly how many people are migrating and how many will migrate as a result of Climate Change. Reasons for migration are:hunger, drought, war and conflict,…. And, as is well documented, Climate Change can trigger all of these.

The International Organization for Migration Future states that forecasts vary from 25 million to 1000 million environmental migrants by 2050.

Based only on sea level rises, Climate Central comes to the following estimation:

 

This estimation only takes into account flooding. It does not consider migration due to other factors like war and hunger.

To put these numbers into perspective: the ongoing Syrian civil war has caused the biggest refugee crisis of our time:

  • 4.9 million Syrian refugees worldwide

  • About 1 million of these have applied for asylum in Europe

 

In other words:

  • Best case scenario:
     

Irreversible future flooding of land currently inhabited by 130 million people


 

  • We don't change our behavior:
     

Flooding of land inhabited by 147 to 216 million by 2100

Irreversible future flooding of land currently inhabited by 470-760 million people

The amount of people displaced due to flooding by 2100 will equal about 30 to 40 times the current Syrian refugees

 

Sources:

Source - Climate Central

Source - Climate Central

Source - International Organisation for Migration

Source - Syrianrefugees.eu

Source - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

 
Drought and changing weather

Climate Change will cause more droughts in already dry regions and more rain and flooding in already wet ones. Storms and hurricanes will become more frequent and more extreme.

According to IPCC's 5th Assessment Report "The flow and storage of water in the Earth’s climate system is highly variable, but changes beyond those due to natural variability are expected by the end of the current century. In a warmer world, there will be net increases in rainfall, surface evaporation and plant transpiration. However, there will be substantial differences in the changes between locations. Some places will experience more precipitation and an accumulation of water on land. In others, the amount of water will decrease, due to regional drying and loss of snow and ice cover."

Some parts of the world will be significantly dryer and other parts will be wetter. In general terms, it is expected that differences between regions will become more extreme.

 

 

Tropical regions and regions around the Poles will become  wetter

Already dry regions like the Mediterranean, southwest USA, and southern Africa and South America will become dryer

Source - IPCC Technical Paper VI

Sources:

Source - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Source - European Commission

 
Agriculture

Agriculture is closely linked with temperature and weather. So it is clear that Climate Change is affecting and will affect agriculture and food production.

In a significant number of regions, the effect of drought or flooding will have negative effects on agriculture. However, some regions (like currently colder zones on the planet) will experience a positive impact from Climate Change on their agricultural potential. 

Different region will experience the effects shown in the table to the right by 2050.

 

Sources:

Source - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Source - EIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 4th Assessment Report

 

 
Armed Conflict & War

In recent years more attention has been given to the possible link between armed conflict and Climate Change.

This potential link is more difficult to assess as, unlike most of the previous impacts, armed conflict is a human action rather than a physical or biological one.

Therefore the degree of impact that Climate Change may have on armed conflicts and war might always be subject to discussion.

Nevertheless, recent studies have increasingly identified Climate Change as a contributing factor to  armed conflict.

For one, The United States Department of Defense is developing policies and plans to respond to and manage the effects of Climate Change and has been warning for security risks linked to Climate Change as early as 2004.

 

In January 2017 UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated Climate Change as one of the major catalysts for conflict.

 

A recently study published in the scientific journal Science (Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict -̶ S. M. Hsiang et. al) showed, both for historic and current events, a significant correlation between conflicts and periods with significant increases in temperature or/and rainfall.

 

Source - Science published paper

Source - Science published paper

It is difficult to definitively prove an absolute direct link between Armed Conflict and Climate Change


The role of Climate Change as a catalyst in igniting conflict in regions that are already under tension, has been acknowledged by a wide range of different entities

 

​Sources:

Source - United States Department of Defense (DoD)

Source - Scientific American

Source - United Nations Secretary General

Source - Science published article

Source - The Guardian

 

 

 
We choose the scenario... Now

​​

Since the 1960s the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has seen an increase of already 30% currently causing the first Climate Change effects.

The scenario of "not changing our behavior" would mean adding 150% to the current greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration by 2100, causing a climatic shock which our human civilisation cannot withstand.

That is why the severity of Climate Change is completely dependent on the choices we make as a society in the next 15 to 30 years.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes a couple of possible scenarios that can unfold depending on how we act as a society in the following years:

 

 

 

 

Often governments and scientists talk about the necessity of "limiting global warming to an average temperature of 2°C" to avoid the worst. Current scientific evidence indicates only RCP2.6 to be able to reach this goal.

So, we choose the scenario now...whether we like it or not. Because not acting right now, is the choice with the most drastic consequences.

Source - IPCC

We don't change our behavior (RCP8.5) - video
 

We reduce emissions, but not enough (RCP6.0) - video
 

We drastically change our ways and almost completely stop CO2 emissions by 2050-2080 (RCP2.6/RCP4.5) - video

Not changing right now is the choice with the most drastic consequences

Sources:

Source - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Source - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Source - Skeptical Science