The Impact of Climate Change
Climate change scientists use computer models to predict the impact of continued emissions. Although computer generated models do not capture the entire picture, the results from different programs can be pooled to create a good indication of what is likely to happen in the future. The models predict that if emissions continue to rise at the current rate, average temperatures will most likely increase by 4°C by 2100 but possibly even as much as 9°C. The consequences of such an increase in temperature are manifold. Some are still unknown but many can be predicted.
An increase in temperature results in warmer seas. As seas expand and water levels rise, low-lying plains and islands are flooded. Ice-caps that are melting in Greenland and West Antarctica as a result of higher temperatures, increase the risk of flooding even more. Globally, climate change leads to more frequent and dangerous extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and tropical storms. Bangladesh, for example, has already suffered catastrophic weather and flooding as a result of climate change. Flood damage costs the UK £1 billion per year and The Association of British Insurers estimates that UK households will pay up to four per cent extra each year as a result of extreme weather events.
People and animals on the move
It is predicted that as global temperatures continue to rise, many more people will be displaced as a result of extreme weather conditions. The New Economics Foundation predicts that, by 2050, up to 150 million people will be living as environmental refugees - more than 1.5 per cent of 2050’s predicted global population of 9 billion. For more information about environmental refugees click here.
If global temperatures rise by 2°C, 30% of all land-living species will be threatened by an increased risk of extinction. Some species may not be able to adapt quickly enough and there may not be habitats available into which they can move.
Food and water
By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 9 billion people living on the planet, an increase in over 2 billion people from the population in 2010. With rising temperatures and a change in rainfall patterns, crop yields are likely to be significantly lower in Africa, Middle East and Asia. Access to drinking water will also be less predictable due to changes in rainfall pattern. The impact on food and water supplies in the world’s poorest countries will be drought and famine. With rising temperatures, diseases like malaria, West Nile disease, dengue fever and river blindness will shift to different areas. It is predicted that 290 million additional people could be exposed to malaria by the 2080s.
Reduction in rainforests
Large areas of Brazilian and central African rainforest could be lost if rainfall in these areas drops significantly. This would be in addition to the forest already lost by clearing land for agriculture. The loss of rainforests is particularly problematic as they absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
The cost of climate change
The estimated cost of adapting to climate change varies, but most sources agree that it is sizeable. The European Commission estimates that the total cost of climate adaptation in developing countries alone could reach about €100billion ($148bn; £90bn) annually by 2020. However, investment into green energy production and other initiatives will give the global economy a huge boost with the creation of many new jobs. The cost of reducing emissions will be much lower in the long-term than not taking action or adapting to a new climate reality according to the Stern Report
on the Economies of Climate Change.
For further reading see resources on the Met Office website here