Food crisis, water shortage, displacement, conflict. The impacts of the climate crisis are already everywhere and affect people deeply – hitting harder those in most vulnerable areas or social conditions, who have often contributed the least to worsening this emergency.
The science is clear:
the planet is heating and we are causing it. And it is also up to us to solve this crisis, ensuring a liveable and equitable future for everyone.
Floods, wildfires, tropical storms, drought. Food crisis, water shortage, displacement, conflict. The impacts of the climate crisis are already everywhere and affect people deeply – hitting harder those in most vulnerable areas or social conditions, who have often contributed the least to worsening this emergency. The science is clear: the planet is heating and we are causing it. And it is also up to us to solve this crisis, ensuring a liveable and equitable future for everyone.
1. It's Warming.
Right now, annual global average temperature is about 1.1° Celsius hotter than pre-industrial levels.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability confirms that at the current rate, the world could cross 1.5˚C hotter as soon as 2040. That’s only two decades from now, well within the lifespan of most people alive today. And even if the current pledges from governments around the world to decrease emissions by 2030 were met, we’d still be on track for reaching a 2.7˚C increase by the end of the century.
Rising temperatures don’t only mean it’s getting hotter. Earth’s climate is complex — even a small increase in average global temperature means big changes, with lots of dangerous side effects and potential for short-circuiting entire ecosystems. Studies are showing that exceeding 1.5˚C could trigger several “tipping points” for our climate systems, and “these changes may lead to abrupt, irreversible, and dangerous impacts with serious implications for humanity.”
1.5˚C was defined by the Paris Agreement in 2015 as the crucial temperature threshold. Even small temperature differences are the difference between life and death for millions of people (our People’s Dossier on 1.5˚C has more on why we need to stay under 1.5˚C). And if we reach the 2.7˚C increase predictions, scientists say it would mean “unliveable heat for parts of the year across areas of the tropics and subtropics. Biodiversity would be enormously depleted, food security would drop, and extreme weather would exceed most urban infrastructure’s capacity to cope.”
GRAPH: NASA TIME SERIES: 1884 TO 2021
Caption: Interactive time series showing average planetary temperature, from 1884 to 2021. Source: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio (NASA Time Series)
2. It’s Us.
Human beings are causing climate change, largely by burning fossil fuels. Rising temperatures correlate almost exactly with the release of greenhouse gases.
As the use of fossil fuels spreads through the world, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is skyrocketing. In 2002 we were at 365 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, and just two decades later we’re crossing 420 ppm.
At the same time, demand for animal-based agriculture by wealthier countries has seen other greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide rapidly rise. The contribution of agriculture causes about 15% of global emissions. Burning fossil fuels remains by far the biggest single contributor to the problem: fossil fuels were responsible for 89% of the energy sector greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. This is compounded by the fact that carbon dioxide stays active in the atmosphere much longer than methane and other greenhouse gasses.
Fossil fuel companies are taking millions of years worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing them into the atmosphere. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the most important step we can take to prevent further climate change.
An overwhelming 99% of scientists agree that climate change is being caused by human greenhouse gas emissions. There is no meaningful debate about the basic science of climate change.
In the 1890s we knew that more CO2 in the atmosphere will warm the climate. Attacks on the credibility of climate science are perpetuated by vested interests, including the fossil fuel industry, which continues to pump money into creating uncertainty about our understanding of climate change. Just between the 2015 Paris Agreement and 2019, the top 5 oil majors alone have spent a combined US$1 billion on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.
The oil company Exxon knew about climate change’s impact in the 1970s, and found out that action would impact their bottom line. As a result, they joined an industry-wide attack on the truth, creating a false debate that prevented action for decades. The same is true for Total Energies – historians have found that the oil giant knew their core business was causing global warming almost 50 years ago. And yet, they covered up the truth, funded misinformation, and lied to their shareholders and the public. Now we know that Exxon, Total and other companies have been taking actions to protect their infrastructure from climate change for decades — while fighting action to protect the rest of us.
Exxon wanted us to believe their spin – but that requires disbelieving scientists and those of us on the ground. Indigenous, traditional and local knowledge has been telling us the climate is changing, and that the way we relate with the planet is not sustainable. More than 24% of the most preserved lands on the planet are managed by local communities or indigenous peoples. And as Ailton Krenak, an indigenous leader and writer from Brazil has pointed out, “people think climate change is something for the future, but we live that inside our forests for a long time. […] Our way of living in any place on the Earth is through the constant interaction between people and nature. All indigenous people respond in different ways to the destruction of the natural base of our lives due to the colonization processes. We do that with what remains of our memories and traditions, and this composes our cosmovision and sustains our resistance”.
If we pay attention to what scientists and most impacted communities are telling us, instead of fossil fuel industry deceptions, the message is clear: humans are causing the rapid onset of climate change, which is already bringing costly impacts across the world – economic, environmental, social and human. The best way to stop it is by keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and accelerating a just transition towards a clean, just community-led future for all.
The ‘debate’ is OVER. Scientist march for action on climate change. Photo credit: Road to Paris
4. It’s Bad.
1.1˚C of warming has already resulted in devastating impacts for people and the planet. And these impacts hit some of us harder.
According to the latest IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change. The report also says that 50-75% of the world population can be exposed to periods of “life-threatening climatic conditions” by 2100, especially connected to exacerbated heat and rainfall.
Food production is very negatively impacted by global heating. Grain yields, for example, face a decrease in production. Food insecurity and water shortage can lead to humanitarian crises, conflict and displacement, unequally affecting different areas of the world – disproportionate impacts are being witnessed especially in parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Arctic.
Seasons are changing and becoming more unpredictable, making it harder for farmers to know when to plant and harvest. Projections show that even if we stay close to 1.5°C by 2100, 8% of today’s world’s farmland will become unsuitable. The fish production in tropical areas of Africa will also suffer a reduction that can go from 3% up to 41% – deepening the food crisis as marine life is the main source of protein for about one-third of people living in the continent.
The IPCC states the difference between 1.5˚C and 2˚C of global temperature rise could mean well over 10 million more migrants from sea-level rise. People all over the world have the right to seek the best possible conditions to live, and to thrive. But involuntary displacement due to climate-related events (mainly floods and storms) has already displaced more than 20 million people per year since 2008.
Adaptation to these and other new realities emerging from climate chaos is inevitable and crucial, but it also highlights inequities around the world. The efforts have been fragmented and unevenly distributed. According to scientists, “substantial adaptation gaps still exist, especially among populations with lower income. At the current rate of planning and implementation, these adaptation gaps will continue to grow [and] the world is currently under-prepared for the coming climate change impacts, particularly beyond 1.5°C global warming”.
Climate change science leaves no room for doubt. New studies and reports confirm what we’ve known for decades: increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events is a result of climate change. It’s bad for all of us — and for some of us, even worse.
Caption: Interactive map showing how climate change affects extreme weather around the world. Source: CarbonBrief
One of the clearest findings of climate science is that global warming amplifies the intensity, duration and frequency of heat waves, drought, and wildfires.
Caption: In 2022, Europe has gone through extreme temperatures, with London (UK) reaching record
breaking 40˚C during summer, wildfires catching up on parts of Spain and Portugal and tens of
thousands people displaced. Photo credit: NOAA
Our planet’s atmosphere and oceans are heating up ten times faster than anytime in the last 65 million years. This has been particularly noticeable in the past 20 years.
Caption: Map highlighting in brown the regions where droughts are expected to become worse as a result of climate change. Source: IPCC.
Warming is increasing the severity of drought. A warmer atmosphere sucks more water from the soil, increasing the likelihood for drought conditions and increased plant stress. The
UN has warned that "over 50 million people in Eastern Africa should face acute food insecurity" in 2022 due to four consecutive years of short rainfall. The drought was the worst in 40 years for many countries in the region. If we don't cut emissions substantially and immediately, the
prognosis is that "a third of global land areas are projected to suffer from at least moderate drought by 2100." Read more about the role of fossil fuels on causing droughts.
Wildfires are also an indicator of our rapidly warming atmosphere. The latest IPCC report states that "a quarter of the world’s natural land now sees longer fire seasons as a result of increases in temperature, aridity and drought".
While record-breaking warming is being felt on land, most of the extra heat energy being trapped in our atmosphere is being stored deep into our oceans causing rapid changes and the decline of key ecosystems.
Caption: Summer Arctic sea ice extent is shrinking by 12.6% per decade as a result of global warming. Source: NSIDC/NASA
Since 1955, more than 90 percent of the energy trapped by the atmosphere as a result of increased greenhouse gasses has been absorbed into the oceans – and the ocean's warming rate has increased significantly over time.
Due to warming of the oceans and atmosphere, the amount of ice on Earth is declining — from glaciers to the Arctic and Antarctic. This is driving sea level rise, reducing the Earth’s ability to reflect heat energy back out to space, and endangering unique ecosystems.
Since satellite records began 4 decades ago, the Arctic’s sea ice has been in dramatic decline,
losing on average 13% of its mass each decade. The entire Arctic region is undergoing drastic changes, threatening vital habitat for countless species and the livelihoods of many Indigenous communities. Severe “snowmageddon” winters are very likely linked to the rapidly increasing polar temperatures, with deadly summer heatwaves and intense flooding probably also linked.
The Antarctic ice sheet is also undergoing changes as ocean temperatures increase, albeit more slowly than the Arctic. As the world’s largest store of freshwater, Antarctica has the potential to intensely contribute to sea level rise: close to zero for up to 1.5 degrees Celsius heating, but quickly jumping to at least 2 meters if we pass 2 degrees Celsius. The difference we can make now by keeping fossil fuels in the ground is astounding: if we act now, we can keep the Antarctic ice sheet largely intact.
Glaciers are also very sensitive to temperature change and as a result of climate change, and all around the world they are in irreversible retreat. The decline of glaciers in the Himalayas, Andes, Arctic, New Zealand Southern Alps and elsewhere pose significant costs and threats to people and wildlife, as they provide an important year-round source of water to many cities and ecosystems around the world.
Warmer oceans = More sea level rise
As water heats up, it expands. This simple phenomena, alongside the influx of water into the oceans from melting ice in the polar regions and the world’s glaciers, is driving rapid sea level rise. It only takes a small amount of sea level rise to cause dramatic damage and change — as king tides and storm surges sweep further inland. Read more about tropical cyclones , which get fuelled by warm waters.
Caption: In 2022, leaders of 15 low-lying Pacific island nations declared climate change their “single greatest existential threat”. In 2014, Fiji became the first nation to relocate a community because of rising sea levels when salt water invaded Vunidogoloa. Photo credit: Forest Woodward, Matagi Mālohi movie
Projections show that "extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century" in several places around the world. The current rate of sea level rise is around 3.7mm/year, but this rate is growing over time, on top of year-to-year ups and downs.
If we keep fossil fuels in the ground and limit heating to less than 2°C, we have a chance of limiting sea level rise to about 50 cm by 2100. With 37% of the world’s population living near the coast, the stakes are high.
Mass global coral bleaching events
Prior to the 1980s there were no signs of any global coral bleaching events for thepast ten thousand years, past ten thousand years, and probably much longer. It’s only in the last 35 years that this has started to occur. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Andaman Islands of the Indian Ocean, what were once bright colorful coral reefs full of life have turned bleached white then murky brown as they’ve died and become covered in algae. (Read more about our Coral Reef Crime Scene campaign.)
Reefs support approximately 25% of all marine species. A massive coral die-off risks the lives or livelihoods of
one billion people around the world, who benefit either directly or indirectly from these ecosystems. If greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked, we will kill off most of the world's coral reefs within decades.
Extreme Storms + Flooding
Storms, hurricanes and typhoons have always happened, but because of human-caused climate change, they are now causing heavier rainfall, more flooding, bigger storm surges and blowing with stronger winds.
According to IPCC AR6, "an increased intensity and frequency of record-breaking daily rainfall has been detected for much of the land surface where good observational records exist, and this can only be explained by human-caused increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations." The connection is clear: for every extra degree of warming, the atmosphere holds about 7% more water vapor – and more water vapor in the atmosphere means more energy, fueling precipitation and altering the areas where the storms occur.
In 2022, 33 million people suffered from deadly floods in Pakistan after monsoons struck the country with rainfall almost 800% higher than usual. In 2021, the waters took the streets of towns in Germany and the Netherlands in one of the most severe rainfalls in one century, taking more than 200 lives. In 2016, the unusually warm waters in the Caribbean lead to the incredibly rapid intensification of Hurricane Matthew, turning it from a tropical storm into a Category 5 in just 36 hours and causing havoc in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and the Southeastern United States as it progressed.
The cost of burning more fossil fuels is very real — it will make storms, hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones more deadly and costly. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the best way to protect people from untold destruction. Read more about the role of fossil fuels on causing floods .
Climate permeates all aspects of our lives, the consequences of a warmer planet will impact our well-being in several ways – affecting vulnerable communities the most.
Caption: Climate change impacts health both directly and indirectly. Source: WHO
It is harder to grow, transport and store food in a warmer climate, and climate change will also impact water quality and availability deeply. These trends will hit poor populations the hardest, deepening inequality across the world and within countries. According to the last IPCC report, the number of people suffering from hunger in 2050 will vary from 8 million to 80 million, with populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Central America being the most severely affected. Also, "globally, 800 million to 3 billion people are projected to experience chronic water scarcity due to droughts at 2°C warming, and up to approximately 4 billion at 4°C warming."
One of the most obvious consequences of a warming climate is also heat stress. By 2100, the percentage of the world population exposed to deadly heat will certainly increase – from today's 30% to 48-76% – but the numbers depend on how much we are able to cut emissions. In Europe, for example, the number of people at risk of heat stress will be 2 or 3 times higher in a world 3°C warmer if compared to 1.5°C. Heat stress is connected to dehydration, organ failure, cardiovascular disease and even death, and also affects most vulnerable populations like women, elderly and poorer communities the hardest.
Caption: Female Aedes albopictus mosquito capable of spreading Zika virus. (Photo: James Gathany/CDC) Source: PHIL
The increase in temperatures is also expanding the areas in which mosquito-borne diseases like
Zika, malaria and dengue fever are common. A
report by Lancet published in 2022 found that "the periods when malaria could be transmitted became 32% longer in upland areas of the Americas and 15% longer in Africa", if compared with the 1950s. The chances that someone is infected by dengue also increased, by 12% over the same period. And the lPCC AR6 shows that "an additional 1 billion people are projected to be at risk of dengue exposure by 2080 under a mid warming scenario, and 5 billion under a high warming scenario."
The warming of the atmosphere is changing the timing of seasons, the distribution of habitats and moving warmer climate zones toward the poles.
A study based on 976 plants and animals found that 47% of them had suffered local extinctions as a result of climate-induced changes. And the latest IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
is very clear: "threats to species and ecosystems in oceans, coastal regions, and on land, particularly in biodiversity hotspots, present a global risk that will increase with every additional tenth of a degree of warming."
More frequent, longer and more severe heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and flooding seasons are putting many species of plants and animals in distress and pushing them beyond their tolerance thresholds or ability to adapt. And it's not as 'simple' as, for example, polar bears disappearing – ecosystems are interconnected, and the extinction or migration of one single species can have unexpected and unpredictable cascading effects. All that affects humans, as the disruption of nature reduces its "ability to provide the essential services that we depend on to survive – such as coastal protection, food supply or climate regulation via carbon uptake and storage."
About half of the species in the world have already been affected in some way. Animals and plants are already changing their habitats more towards the poles, to higher altitudes, or to deeper ocean waters to run away from extreme weather. Right now, about 12% of the 8 million species of animals and plants on Earth are at risk of extinction and facing a massive, quick and unprecedented decline which is also due to climate change. And studies show that as global heating goes up, those numbers will become worse: with 2°C by 2100, about 18% of all plants and animals that live on land will be at risk of extinction but if the world warms up to 4.5°C, "about half of all plant and animal species that we have records for will be threatened".
Nature's conservation goes hand in hand with the climate crisis – both suffering its results and being part of the solution for ensuring a livable future for human beings. Scientists say that “by restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 percent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon.”
Climate change is already changing seasons, affecting habitats and shifting climatic zones, pushing species to extinction, and farmers to hardship. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the best way to protect important habitats and livelihoods.
5. We Can Fix It.
The basic facts of climate crisis are grim: the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground for us to stay below 1.5°C of heating, and fossil fuel companies aren’t going to do that without a fight.
Here’s the good news:
We know exactly what we have to do
We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and quickly transition to renewable energy sources that are just for all. Science says it’s still possible to stay under 1.5˚C and the decisions we make now can secure a safe and equitable future for all. But we’ll need to halve emissions by 2030, and make sure resources are redirected to solar, wind and other clean energy sources, and to support those most affected by the already existing impacts worldwide.
Renewable energy is getting more popular every day
As renewables grow and provide more clean, free energy to replace fossil fuels, we’ve seen emissions decrease in many countries and more and more financial institutions stop their investments in coal, oil and gas projects. Fast and wide scale deployment of renewable energy is the best method for decoupling markets from the price volatility of fossil fuels and reducing energy prices everywhere.
We’re not alone
The worldwide movement to stop the climate crisis, resist the fossil fuel industry and fight for climate justice is growing stronger every day!
The climate crisis is happening now and to all of us, but it is not felt equally by everyone. It exacerbates inequities and cuts across all aspects of our lives: food, jobs, health, human rights. The only real solutions are those rooted in justice and putting people and communities first. A world beyond fossil fuels is also a world with more equitable gender, racial, migrants, workers and social rights – within and across borders.
At 350.org we believe and fight for a safer climate and a better future where everyone can thrive – and we need you with us in this fight!