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What are the effects of climate change?

The Earth's climate is changing but how has it changed so far? Of all the effects of climate change the most obvious one has been global warming, the rise in average temperatures. The Earth's average surface temperature has increased significantly since the Industrial Revolution which has caused many other long-term changes to the climate.1

Climate change is not something in the far-off future, but something that we will experience in our lifetimes. Many of the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world.

Some of those effects include: widespread melting of snow and ice around the world, rise in global sea levels, ocean acidification, coral bleaching as well as loss of biodiversity.2 3

Scientists are also tracking changes with respect to weather patterns and extreme weather events.

Some of the effects of climate change include:

The effects of climate change: Increased flooding
The effects of climate change: Longer droughts
The effects of climate change: More frequent cold waves and heat waves
The effects of climate change: Stronger storms, cyclones and hurricanes

Flooding is occurring more frequently,4 5 and droughts are becoming longer.6 7 Climate change is increasing the chances of cold waves and heat waves.8 9 Storms, cyclones and hurricanes are becoming more intense in recent years.10 11 12 The amount of rainfall is rising in high latitudes and decreasing in most sub-tropical and temperate land areas.

These impacts are not distributed evenly across the globe. As expected, temperature changes are greater at the poles, with some regions of the Arctic warming 0.5°C in just the past 30 years. At low latitudes - those close to the equator - a greater fraction of the trapped infrared energy goes into evaporation, limiting warming but providing an increase in water vapor that pours out as more intense rains from convective storms and tropical cyclones.4

The main global effects, for every 1° C increase of the Earth's average temperature, will be:13

  • 5-10% changes in the amount of precipitation across many regions
  • 3-10% increases in the volume of rainfall during the heaviest precipitation events
  • 5-10% changes in streamflow across many river basins
  • 15% decreases sea ice coverage across the Arctic Ocean, with a 25% decrease in the yearly minimum extent in September
  • 5-15% reductions in crop yields

More info:
Impacts of climate change - David Suzuki Foundation
Climate change impacts - Environmental Defense Fund
Climate Change: Effects - NASA
Climate change consequences - European Commission

  • 1. Allison, Ian. The science of climate change: questions and answers. Canberra: Australian Academy of Science, 2010.
  • 2. U.K. Met Office. Evidence: The state of the climate. Exeter, U.K.: Met Office Hadley Centre, 2010.
  • 3. National Research Council. Ecological impacts of climate change. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2008.
  • 4. a. b. The World Bank. World Development Report 2010: Development and climate change. Washington, DC: World Bank and Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • 5. Allison, I.. The Copenhagen diagnosis updating the world on the latest climate science. Sydney: UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, 2009.
  • 6. Trenberth, Ke. "Changes in precipitation with climate change." Climate Research 47, no. 1 (2011): 123-138.
  • 7. Dai, Aiguo. "Increasing drought under global warming in observations and models." Nature Climate Change 3, no. 1 (2012): 52-58.
  • 8. Coumou, Dim, and Stefan Rahmstorf. "A decade of weather extremes." Nature Climate Change 2, no. 7 (2012): 491–496.
  • 9. Francis, Jennifer A., and Stephen J. Vavrus. "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes." Geophysical Research Letters 39, no. 6 (2012): n/a-n/a.
  • 10. Emanuel, Kerry. "Environmental Factors Affecting Tropical Cyclone Power Dissipation." Journal of Climate 20, no. 22 (2007): 5497.
  • 11. Yu, Jia-Yuh, and Ping-Gin Chiu. "Contrasting Various Metrics for Measuring Tropical Cyclone Activity." Terrestrial, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences 23, no. 3 (2011): 303.
  • 12. Elsner, James B., James P. Kossin, and Thomas H. Jagger. "The increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones." Nature 455, no. 7209 (2008): 92-95.
  • 13. National Academy of Sciences. Climate stabilization targets emissions, concentrations, and impacts over decades to millennia. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2011.

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