We hear more and more about the climate crisis. But how did it happen and how is it manifesting itself? Global temperatures are rising because of human activity, and climate change now threatens every aspect of human life. If humans do not get their actions under control, they will experience catastrophic warming with worsening droughts, greater sea level rise and mass species extinctions
What is climate change?
Climate is the average weather in a particular place over many years. Climate change is a shift in these average conditions. The rapid climate change we are now seeing is mainly due to people using oil, gas and coal for their homes, factories and transport. Burning these fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases – mostly carbon dioxide (CO2). These gases trap the sun’s heat and cause the planet’s temperature to rise. The world is now about 1.2°C warmer than it was in the 19th century – and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 50%. The rise in temperatures must be slowed if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Scientists say global warming must be kept to 1.5 °C by 2100. But if no further action is taken, the planet could still warm by more than 2°C by the end of this century. If nothing is done, scientists believe global warming could exceed 4°C in the future, leading to devastating heatwaves, millions of people losing their homes to rising sea levels and the irreversible loss of plant and animal species.
What is the impact of climate change?
Extreme weather events are already intensifying and threatening lives and livelihoods. With further warming, some areas could become uninhabitable as farmland turns into desert. In other regions, the opposite is true, with extreme rainfall causing historic flooding. People in poorer countries will suffer the most because they do not have the money to adapt to climate change. Many farms in developing countries already have to endure a climate that is too hot, and this will only get worse. Fires are becoming more frequent as climate change increases the risk of hot, dry weather. And as frozen ground thaws in places like Siberia, centuries of trapped greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change. In a warmer world, animals will find it harder to find the food and water they need to live. Polar bears, for example, could die out when the ice they rely on melts, and elephants will struggle to find the 150-300 litres of water a day they need.
How will specific parts of the world be affected?
- The UK and Europe will be vulnerable to flooding from extreme rainfall events
- Countries in the Middle East will experience extreme heat waves and farmland may turn into desert
- Island countries in the Pacific could disappear under rising seas
- Many African countries likely to suffer from drought and food shortages
- Drought is likely in the western U.S., while other areas will see more intense storms
- Australia is likely to suffer from extreme heat and drought