The consequences of doing nothing

  • Over 500 million people across the world don’t have enough food.
  • People are dying of heat-related illness every summer.
  • There are millions more ticks and mosquitoes on the planet, bringing tropical diseases to places they’ve never existed before.
  • Turbulent seas and dangerously high sea levels bring the constant threat of floods.
  • Coral reefs are dissolving.
Our window of opportunity to limit the impact of climate change is quickly closing. What sort of future do we face if we don’t manage to slow down global warming?
Over the last 150 years the average global temperature has risen 0.7°C.

Scientists attribute a significant part of this rise to human activities that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – such as burning coal and oil – as well as and cutting down the forests that naturally absorb carbon from the air.

A rise of just 2°C means severe storms and floods in some countries, droughts in many more.

Seas become more acidic, coral and krill die, food chains are destroyed.

It also means no Arctic ice in summer – and that’s not just bad news for polar bears. Polar ice reflects sunlight away from the Earth, so without it the global climate will warm even faster. If the planet warms more than 3°C, most ecosystems will struggle to survive.

Yet, scientists predict possible rises of up to 6° this century – if we don’t drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The energy sector holds the key here. It is responsible for around 2/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions. Embracing renewable energy, and finding ways to use less in our daily lives, are the best ways to achieve the rapid emissions reductions we need.

Approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C *


Feeling hot?

Global warming doesn’t mean we’ll all have warmer weather in future.
As the planet heats, climate patterns change and bring more extreme and unpredicted weather across the world. Some places will be hotter, some colder. Some wetter, others drier.
Amphibians such as frogs are some of the species at greatest risk from climate change.
© Thomas Calame

Millions of species at risk from rising temperatures

From plants to mammals, birds to butterflies, climate change threatens a quarter of all species with extinction.
Often used as a backdrop image to news about “green issues”, the polar bear has become a symbol of what’s at stake if we don’t stop climate change.

Warming in the Arctic is expected to be 2 or 3 times greater than in the rest of the world. Even a slight shift in temperature could result in an ice-free Arctic within this century.

The polar bear uses moving ice to catch its prey. Without it, the polar bear won’t survive in its natural habitat – nor perhaps at all. It’s just one example of how the planet’s rising temperature can start a chain of events that result in a species disappearing forever.

Species can’t adapt

Sea turtles lay their eggs on thousands of beaches all around the world. But rising sea levels, caused by global warming – which also disrupts developing embryos – will put their nests at risk. Eventually, they’ll stop laying eggs.

With droughts and bush fires becoming more frequent and lasting longer, Asia’s only ape – the orang-utan – is in deep trouble. Its habitat is disappearing. With nowhere safe to live, it will die out.

Warming waters contain less plankton for whales to feed on, killing off many species such as the North Atlantic right whale.

In reality, very few species will be unaffected by a changing climate. It affects plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, butterflies and other invertebrates.

Indeed, Scientists predict that these changes could consign up to a quarter of all terrestrial species studied to extinction.

Rising sea levels threaten entire nations

5 millimetres doesn’t sound like much.
But when it has the power of the world’s oceans behind it, it can be a disastrous amount...

In the village of Saoluafata in Samoa, villagers have noticed that their coastline has retreated by as much as 50 metres in the last decade. Many people have had to leave their homes and move further inland.

On the island of Kiribati, also in the Pacific Ocean, “invading” salt water has made groundwater undrinkable. Hurricanes and heavy seas blight residents’ lives.

Rising sea levels are the cause. If climate change continues, levels are expected to rise by 5mm a year for the next 100 years.

While this might not sound fast, it’s a rate that threatens to consign entire nations – such as the Maldives – to the realms of history.

As temperatures increase, seas will absorb more heat from the atmosphere, causing them to expand and rise. Ice sheets, such as those in Greenland and on Antarctica, and land glaciers will also continue to melt, increasing the level of the seas even further.

Disappearing coastline

Nearly half of the people in the world live within 200 kilometres of the sea.

In some countries the proportion is much greater. Many countries rely on coasts for fishing, tourism, and transport – essential parts of their economies.

Rising sea levels erode coastlines and beaches – and the livelihoods they support. They destroy wetlands, salt marshes and the flora and fauna that thrive there. Regional transport, including rail and road services, can also be affected.

And it’s not just seaside villages at risk.

Many of the largest cities – London, New York, Shanghai, Singapore – are located along coastlines. If the rise continues or the rate increases, we could lose more than we can imagine.

We need to stop burning fossil fuels, and take serious action now to stop it happening.
	© WWF / Ronald PETOCZ
A leatherback turtle returns to the sea. Its habitat is under threat from rising sea levels due to climate change, beach development, pollution and unsustainable fishing practice
© WWF / Ronald PETOCZ
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Climate change increases numbers of infectious insects

As climate change causes winters to warm and seasons to shift, an increasing number of exotic and destructive plants and insects are expected to fly, creep and crawl into our lives.
The Asian tiger mosquito can transmit more than 30 different viruses, affecting humans and animals. A warmer, wetter climate will help these kinds of insects to breed and the diseases they bring to survive and spread.

Scientists project that within this century about 35% of the global population could be at risk of dengue fever, spread by mosquitoes. This almost doubles when global warming is taken into account.

Unless they are stopped, these insects will continue to spread disease, causing a huge threat to global health and economies. They’ll also destroy valuable natural resources and displace the native plants and wildlife.
	© Amber
A high school student in Unalakleet, Alaska makes a school report on an increase in insects previously unseen in this region.
© Amber

Could unpredictable weather bring food shortages across the globe?

Crop failures and the collapse of coral reefs could make it almost impossible to feed an expanding global population.
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to rise to 9 billion.

Given that even today parts of the world suffer famine and food shortages, having another 2 billion mouths to feed presents a major challenge.

Unchecked climate change could make it a near impossible one.

While we can’t predict exactly how climate change is going to affect weather patterns, the signs are that they’ll become much more unpredictable. That will make life much harder for farmers.

Droughts, floods, hurricanes, hail and other extreme weather – all of which can be disastrous to crop yields – are likely to become more common, especially in developing countries which already suffer the worst food shortages. Crop and livestock pests are likely to spread too.

Collapsing corals

Supplies of seafood are likely to suffer too.

This doesn’t mean a few sushi restaurants closing – it means hundreds of millions of people will need to find an alternative diet.

Increased CO2 levels are making our oceans warmer and more acidic, with disastrous effects for coral reefs. Already reefs are bleaching and dying; some scientists predict that much of the world’s coral could effectively become extinct by the end of the century, changing our oceans forever.

Coral reefs are the basis of the richest marine ecosystems and an essential part of the food chain.

In the Coral Triangle, for example, 120 million people depend on fish or seafood as their main source of protein. If its coral reefs were lost, food production in the region would fall by 80%.
The Energy Report is not a prescription, it is a vision. It is there to stimulate debate...

What do you think of the findings and vision in The Energy Report?
Flooding in East Dongting Lake, Yuyang City, Hunan Province, China
© Yifei ZHANG / WWF

Extreme weather claims lives around the world

Flooding in Pakistan and Australia.. Drought in Russia. A cyclone in Burma.

The last few years alone have seen climate- and weather-related disasters devastating communities across the world.

Although it’s impossible to link any single catastrophic climatic event with rising temperatures, climate research shows we are experiencing more frequent and intense natural disasters. Hundreds of thousands of people are being directly affected – and so are the ecosystems they rely on.

Those with the least defences are worst affected by extreme weather. The most vulnerable and poorest communities are hit the hardest.

It’s not just the immediate impact of the disaster that destroys lives. The aftermath devastates. Farmers lose crops, and their livelihoods. Food shortages follow. Diseases ravage communities.

Extreme weather worldwide

The impacts of extreme weather are felt the world over. In Britain, the insurance industry says that US$370 billion worth of property is now at risk from river or coastal flooding.

Cities such as Athens, Chicago, Adelaide, Milan, New Delhi and Paris have sweltered under heatwaves.

The 2003 summer heatwave in Europe killed 14,800 people in France alone. Prolonged drought has wracked parts of Australia for years, only to be followed by extreme floods. And recent droughts in the Amazon, the United States and southern and western Africa have made life extremely hard for people and wildlife.

We must act now to keep the rise in Earth’s average temperature below 2°C. That means radically reducing carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with clean renewable energy.

In the first part of 2010, 21,000 people died in weather-related disasters – more than twice the number for the whole of 2009.

"WWF’s Energy Vision is both bold and inspiring, prescribing aggressive energy saving next to an accelerated transition to renewable energy”. At Alpro, we contribute to this vision mainly by promoting resource-efficient plant-based foods, still leaving available land for species and ecosystems, while ensuring food security and other needs in natural resources from humanity.

Bernard Deryckere

Since 2001 Bernard Deryckere is CEO of Alpro, the European market leader in soy –based products and President of ENSA, the European Natural Soy Manufacturers Association.

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