Glacier in Iceland

Background The impacts of climate change

The past eight years were the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The Earth has already warmed by more than 1 degree since pre-industrial times. Even if the international community succeeds in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, humankind must brace itself for more frequent and severe extreme weather events and long-term environmental changes.

Heat waves, floods, wildfires

The frequency and severity of extreme weather events are already increasing due to climate change. Such events include heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Between 1970 and 2019, more than two million people died as a result of weather- and climate-related disasters; over 80 per cent of these deaths occurred in developing countries. The number of weather-related disasters has increased fivefold over the past 50 years.

In addition, global warming is causing slow-onset environmental changes: melting glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, higher soil salinity, lower groundwater levels, desertification and loss of biodiversity. This is presenting people worldwide with huge challenges and threatening people's vital resources and livelihoods.

Development gains at risk

Developing countries and emerging economies are particularly affected by these impacts. This is due partly to their geographic location and their vulnerable infrastructure, but also to their often limited capacity to protect their citizens and adapt to changing conditions.

Climate change is thus threatening development gains that have been made in the past, as well as opportunities for future development. Vulnerable population groups are particularly at risk, including women and girls, children and youth, persons with disabilities, and indigenous people.

  • Rising temperatures, lack of rainfall and extreme weather events are causing crop losses. Without adaptation measures, global agricultural yields could decline by 5 to 30 per cent by 2050.
  • With global warming of 2 degrees, climate change is likely to put 40 per cent more people at risk of absolute water scarcity. Melting glaciers are impacting the availability of water.
  • Rising sea levels are threatening communities in coastal regions throughout the world. Small island states such as Vanuatu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are especially at risk. Coastal megacities, including Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta, have also been identified as vulnerability hotspots.
  • More frequent storms and floods are destroying key infrastructure such as roads and health and education facilities. In 2021, natural disasters caused economic losses amounting to 280 billion US dollars. Many of these phenomena can be attributed to climate change.
  • Extreme heat, food and water shortages but also the spread of pathogens are increasing disease and mortality rates. Every year, some 13 million people die from environment-related causes.
  • Climate change could amplify existing conflict risks, such as competition over resources like land and water.

More poverty, more migration, more hunger

According to World Bank estimates, global warming could push up to 132 million more people into extreme poverty by 2030 unless there is urgent and comprehensive investment in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. 216 million people might become displaced by 2050. Within 50 years, 3.5 billion people could be affected by extreme heat. More than 700 million of the world's people are already hungry; climate change could exacerbate the hunger crisis.

The poorest countries in particular lack the financial, institutional and technological resources that would enable them to mount a climate policy response. As the main contributors to climate change, the industrialised countries have a responsibility to lead by example and to do more to promote climate justice. They have pledged to support the developing countries' efforts to make their economies climate neutral and adapt to the unavoidable impacts of global warming. In addition, they are increasingly supporting countries' efforts to deal with residual risks, for instance by providing more assistance and solutions in the field of climate risk finance and insurance.

As at: 25/09/2023