Climate change has emerged as a major issue the world is facing today. While a rise in temperature by 2°C above pre-industrial levels may not appear much, it can have potentially disastrous effects for certain communities. Climate-related events can significantly impact our health, food, water supplies, security, economies, and infrastructure. In addition, climate change also has implications for our ecosystem and biodiversity. These effects are discussed in more detail below.
Global warming results in more frequent and intense heat waves around the world, affecting the health of millions of people. Extreme heat can cause serious illnesses and deaths due to conditions such as the heat stroke, particularly in highly-populated regions. For example, the heat wave in Japan during the summer of 2019 resulted in over100 deaths and 18,000 hospitalizations. Record-high temperatures were also witnessed in countries such as France, Germany, and United Kingdom, negatively affecting health and well-being. In the Indian state of Bihar alone, around 190 people died in a heat wave during 2019.
While the role of climate change in triggering wildfires is hot being debated, there is no doubt that rising heat and drought conditions contribute to the spread of these fires. In Australia, uncontrolled wildfires have plunged the country into a crisis. At the time of writing, the fires have killed at least 30 people and destroyed over 3,000 homes, while insurance losses are estimated at around $500 million. A staggering 1.25 billion animals have reportedly been killed in the fires. Forest fires have also caused severe damage in other parts of the world, including the Amazon rainforest in South America.
Diminishing Food Supplies
Climate change alters rainfall patterns that can adversely affect agricultural output. As a result, weather-driven shortages of food have become an increasing phenomenon. For example, over 820 million people, or one in every nine people, suffered from hunger in 2018, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The situation has been particularly bad in Sub-Saharan Africa where the number of under-nourished people increased by 23 million between 2015 and 2018. The damage to crops and livestock due to extreme weather typically drives more people into poverty. Fresh water supplies are also dwindled due to prolonged drought conditions.
Extreme weather triggered by climate change has resulted in more frequent flooding in some parts of the world. Floods can destroy homes, farms and other property, driving many people homeless. For example, in the first half of 2019, over 10 million new internal displacements were recorded globally. Severe floods can also devastate the local economy and have strong repercussions for entire communities.
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As global climate continues to warm, the frequency and intensity of severe storms, such as hurricanes, is expected to increase. China and Bangladesh had to evacuate a combined 4 million people during 2019 due to Typhoon Lekima and Cyclone Bulbul respectively. Two cyclones in Southern Africa similarly displaced around 270,000 people during the year. In addition, landslides resulting from storms and deforestation can cause considerable damage to life and property in mountainous regions.
Spread of Dengue Virus
Changes in climate conditions in recent decades have made it easier for mosquito species to transmit the dengue virus. This has resulted in a large increase in dengue victims in various parts of the world. For example, during 2019, South and North America reportedly identified over 2.8 million confirmed or suspected dengue cases, including 1,250 deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly half the world population is now at risk of catching the dengue virus.
Flooding contributes to water-borne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid. Such diseases typically prove deadly in regions where most people do not have access to advanced medical facilities. In South Sudan, the flooding of 2019 resulted in various water-borne diseases, as well as insect-borne diseases, including East Coast Fever and anthrax, which can spread rapidly among the livestock. Climate change is also expected to increase the incidence of diarrheal disease worldwide.
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Declining Air Quality
Human activities such as the emission of greenhouse gases lead to air pollution which significantly degrades the quality of the air we breathe. Around 91 percent people globally are reportedly breathing air in which pollutants exceed the WHO air quality guidelines. Air pollution can expose people to illnesses such as lung cancer, acute respiratory infections, and even stroke and heart diseases. An estimated 4.2 million pre-mature deaths occur each year due to such diseases, according to the WHO. Related problems resulting from human activities, including ozone depletion, can cause skin cancer, eye disorders, and several other diseases.
Effects on Marine Life
Among the many effects of climate change on marine life are rising ocean temperatures, reduction of sea-ice extent and thickness, and alteration of ocean circulation. Coral reefs are particularly threatened, projected to decline to 1 percent of former cover at 2°C warming. Marine animals are further affected by ocean acidification – a consequence of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Severe storms and precipitation can create “dead zones” along coastal areas, where it becomes virtually impossible for marine life to survive.