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.

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Global Temperature Index (NASA)

Earth has always had natural cycles of warming and cooling, but not like we’re seeing now. The 10 top hottest years ever recorded have all been after 2000, with records being beaten year after year. And according to the IPCC “each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850”.

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.”


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.

Before the 18th century, when humans in the industrial West began to burn coal, oil and gas, our atmosphere typically contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Those are the conditions “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”

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.

Source: NOAA

3. We’re Sure.

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.

Social inequalities within and across countries will get deeper as the impacts of the climate crisis hit harder. Vulnerable social groups, “including women, young people, the elderly, ethnic and religious minorities, Indigenous People, and refugees” are more likely to suffer harder from the impacts of the climate crisis – being more exposed to food and water scarcity, poverty, health issues, conflict and violence connected to climate change. 

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