When you change the climate you change everything

The climate plays such a major part in our planet's environmental system that even minor changes have impacts that are large and complex.

Climate change affects people and nature in countless ways, and it often increases existing threats that have already put pressure on the environment.

But it is not a problem which has appeared overnight – it's 30 years since scientists first alerted the world to the dangers of climate change. How much longer are we going to allow it to continue?

Changes in nature has serious implications for people and our economic system. The insurance industry estimates the potential economic damage, caused by the impacts of global warming, to be hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Climate change impacts on water

Rivers and lakes supply drinking water for people and animals, as well as being vital for agriculture and industry. Oceans and seas provide food for billions of people.

Climate change will have major and unpredictable effects on the world's water systems, including an increase in floods and droughts. Extremes in droughts and flooding will become more common, causing displacement and conflict. Less fresh water means less agriculture, food and income.

Climate change impacts on forests

Forests do so much: they purify our air, improve water quality, keep soils intact, provide us with food, wood products and medicines, and are home to many of the world’s most endangered wildlife.

In fact, an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide rely on forests for their livelihoods, including 60 million indigenous people who depend on forests for their subsistence.

Forests also help protect the planet from climate change by absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), a major source of pollution that causes climate change.

Unfortunately, forests are being destroyed or damaged at an alarming rate by logging and burning to clear land for agriculture or livestock. These activities release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Scientists estimate that up to 20 percent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation – greater than the combined emissions of every car, truck and plane on the planet. So instead of forests helping us to solve the climate crisis, deforestation is making the situation worse.

Climate change impacts on food security

Climate change will have a significant impact on food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food systems stability in many parts of the world. Climate change poses a significant risk of increased crop failure, loss of livestock and will impact on local food security.

In some areas drier and warmer conditions are predicted, elsewhere wetter and cooler conditions are expected which will negatively affect agricultural practices. It will affect human health and livelihoods, as well as people’s purchasing power, food markets and food security at household levels.

Climate change impacts on agriculture

Many people throught the world rely on rain-fed agriculture. As a result, it is highly vulnerable to changes in climate variability, seasonal shifts, and precipitation patterns. Any amount of warming will result in increased water stress. Roughly 70 percent of the population lives by farming, and 40 percent of all exports are agricultural products (WRI 1996). One-third of the income in Africa is generated by agriculture. Crop production and livestock husbandry account for about half of household income. The poorest members of society are those who are most dependent on agriculture for jobs and income. (Odingo 1990; FAO 1999).



Montage of global wetlands / ©: WWF-Canon / Helena  TELKÄNRANTA; WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY; WWF-Canon / Hartmut JUNGIUS; WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY; WWF-Canon / Y.-J. REY-MILLET; Nigel Allan
From left to right (clockwise): 1. Asian openbills depend on wetlands to survive. Chitwan National Park, Terai Arc Landscape Project (TAL), Nepal.; 2. Various birds at a billabong. Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.; 3.Gur River (an Amur River tributary) floodplain. Khabarovsk Territory, Siberia, Russian Federation.; 4. Lechwe herd running accross water in Lochinvar National Park, Kafue, Zambia.; 5.Bird rookery. Pantanal, Brazil.
© WWF-Canon / Helena TELKÄNRANTA; WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY; WWF-Canon / Hartmut JUNGIUS; WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY; WWF-Canon / Y.-J. REY-MILLET; Nigel Allan

And the top 11 warmest years are:

The year 2005 was the warmest on record, jointly with 1998.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the
11 warmest years globally since 1856 have occurred in the last 15 years.

  1. 1998 & 2005 (joint),
  2. 2002 & 2003 (joint),
  3. 2001,
  4. 1997,
  5. 1995,
  6. 1990 & 1999 (joint),
  7. 1991 & 2000 (joint).
Figures compiled by the UK Meteorological Office and the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia for the World Meteorological Organisation.

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