Climate Change Impacts Around the World — In One Graphic

By Tom Yulsman | March 31, 2014 7:53 pm
Climate change impacts around the world

Global climate change impacts. (For a full explanation, see below. Source: IPCC Working Group II Summary for Policymakers.)

Here’s my take-away on the new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released today:

Regardless of what you may hear on radio and television shout-fests masquerading as journalism, the best science leads to one simple conclusion: If we want to reduce the risks of significant climate change that would challenge our ability to adapt, we need to act now. Time is running out.

According to the IPCC Working Group II report, climate change is already having substantial impacts “on all continents and across the oceans” — and the worst is still to come.

The graphic above, which is from the report, shows that no region has been spared. It contains a lot of information (too much, really), so here’s a little help in interpreting what you’re looking at:

The rectangles across the top show broad climate change impacts that have been documented across nine regions. In North America, for example, changes have been observed in glaciers, snow and ice, as well as in ecosystems on land. The bars next to each of the symbols show the degree of confidence that scientists have in attributing the impacts to climate change.

Within the land areas on the map, regional-scale impacts where climate change has played a major role are shown by symbols that are colored in. For impacts in which climate change has played a minor role, the symbols are only outlined.

Here in the Western United States where I live, we’re already familiar with two significant climate change impacts: a decreasing amount of water in spring snowpack, and earlier peak flows in our rivers as warming occurs sooner in the spring than it used too. These impacts pose significant challenges in a region prone to drought to begin with, and which is projected to experience further drying as temperatures warm further.

Overall, the litany of changes that have now been observed and attributed to climate change with medium to high confidence is sobering. Among them are these:

  • Summer sea ice in the Arctic continues to dwindle.
  • Glaciers are continuing to shrink almost worldwide, affecting runoff and water resources downstream, and causing sea level to rise.
  • Along coastal Antarctica, ice is being lost as glaciers speed their movement to the sea. (I’ll have more to say about this in my next ImaGeo post.)
  • Warming and thawing in the high latitudes and at high elevation is causing permafrost to degrade.
  • Many species of plants, insects and animals on land, in freshwater systems, and in the oceans, have shifted their geographic ranges, activities, and migration patterns.
  • The oceans are acidifying as they absorb a substantial portion of the carbon dioxide we humans are emitting into the atmosphere, causing coral reefs to die.

And in one of the scarier parts of the report, scientists have concluded that climate change is already having more negative impacts on crop yields than positive ones. Moreover, this will likely get worse as temperatures continue to warm and no adaptation efforts are undertaken, particularly after the year 2050.

We often hear it argued that taking steps to lower carbon emissions now would cause more harm than good by reducing economic growth. But the IPCC report cautions that another outcome is likely:

Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.

We still have time to reduce the risks. It will require adaptation to the impacts that are already occurring, and are likely to continue because some climate change is already locked in. But this will not be enough to avoid the most significant risks, because there are limits to how much societies can adapt. So taking steps right now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases is essential.

  • Tim C

    “Dr. Peter Venkman: This [world] is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
    Mayor: What do you mean, biblical?
    Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
    Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
    Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…
    Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

  • Bill

    It’s normal cycles in weather. In 1977 the Feds were saying we were heading into another “ice age”. Anything to keep their jobs. If we were really heading to a “green house” effect. There wouldn’t be any drought but only flooding all over the world. It’s time to stop panicking all the “chicken littles” and worry more about what the current government regime is doing to the Safety of our country and stop looking at everything they are doing to remove their destruction of our country economically and constitutionally.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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