Effects of global warming
2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Climate and the Weather; Natural Disasters
The predicted effects of global warming on the environment and for human life are numerous and varied. It is generally difficult to attribute specific natural phenomena to long-term causes, but some effects of recent climate change may already be occurring. Rising sea levels, glacier retreat, Arctic shrinkage, and altered patterns of agriculture are cited as direct consequences, but predictions for secondary and regional effects include extreme weather events, an expansion of tropical diseases, changes in the timing of seasonal patterns in ecosystems, and drastic economic impact. Concerns have led to political activism advocating proposals to mitigate, eliminate, or adapt to it.
The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes a summary of the expected effects.
Projected climate changes due to global warming have the potential to lead to future large-scale and possibly irreversible effects at continental and global scales. The likelihood, magnitude, and timing is uncertain and controversial, but some examples of projected climate changes include significant slowing of the ocean circulation that transports warm water to the North Atlantic, large reductions in the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, accelerated global warming due to carbon cycle feedbacks in the terrestrial biosphere, and releases of terrestrial carbon from permafrost regions and methane from hydrates in coastal sediments.
The probability of one or more of these changes occurring is likely to increase with the rate, magnitude, and duration of climate change. Additionally, the United States National Academy of Sciences has warned, "greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the earth system may increase the possibility of large, abrupt, and unwelcome regional or global climatic events. . . . Future abrupt changes cannot be predicted with confidence, and climate surprises are to be expected."
The IPCC finds that the effects of global warming will be mixed across regions. For smaller values of warming (1 to 3 ° C), changes are expected to produce net benefits in some regions and for some activities, and net costs for others. Greater warming is very likely to produce net costs (or to reduce the benefits from smaller warming) in all regions. Developing countries are expected to be especially vulnerable to reduced economic growth as a result of warming.
Most of the consequences of global warming would result from one of three physical changes: sea level rise, higher local temperatures, and changes in rainfall patterns. Sea level is generally expected to rise 18 to 59 cm (7.1 to 23.2 inches) by the end of the century.
Effects on weather
Increasing temperature is likely to lead to increasing precipitation but the effects on storms are less clear. Extratropical storms partly depend on the temperature gradient, which is predicted to weaken in the northern hemisphere as the polar region warms more than the rest of the hemisphere.
Storm strength leading to extreme weather is increasing, such as the power dissipation index of hurricane intensity. Kerry Emanuel writes that hurricane power dissipation is highly correlated with temperature, reflecting global warming. Hurricane modeling has produced similar results, finding that hurricanes, simulated under warmer, high-CO2 conditions, are more intense; there is less confidence in projections of a global decrease in numbers of hurricanes. Worldwide, the proportion of hurricanes reaching categories 4 or 5 – with wind speeds above 56 metres per second – has risen from 20% in the 1970s to 35% in the 1990s. Precipitation hitting the US from hurricanes increased by 7% over the twentieth century. The extent to which this is due to global warming as opposed to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation is unclear. Some studies have found that the increase in sea surface temperature may be offset by an increase in wind shear, leading to little or no change in hurricane activity.
Catastrophes resulting from extreme weather are exacerbated by increasing population densities. The World Meteorological Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have linked increasing extreme weather events to global warming, as have Hoyos et al., writing that the increasing number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes is directly linked to increasing temperatures. Thomas Knutson and Robert E. Tuleya of NOAA stated in 2004 that warming induced by greenhouse gas may lead to increasing occurrence of highly destructive category-5 storms. Vecchi and Soden find that wind shear, the increase of which acts to inhibit tropical cyclones, also changes in model-projections of global warming. There are projected increases of wind shear in the tropical Atlantic and East Pacific associated with the deceleration of the Walker circulation, as well as decreases of wind shear in the western and central Pacific. The study does not make claims about the net effect on Atlantic and East Pacific hurricanes of the warming and moistening atmospheres, and the model-projected increases in Atlantic wind shear.
A substantially higher risk of extreme weather does not necessarily mean a noticeably greater risk of slightly-above-average weather. However, the evidence is clear that severe weather and moderate rainfall are also increasing. Increases in temperature are expected to produce more intense convection over land and a higher frequency of the most severe storms.
Stephen Mwakifwamba, national co-ordinator of the Centre for Energy, Environment, Science and Technology - which prepared the Tanzanian government's climate change report to the UN - says that change is happening in Tanzania right now. "In the past, we had a drought about every 10 years", he says. "Now we just don't know when they will come. They are more frequent, but then so are floods. The climate is far less predictable. We might have floods in May or droughts every three years. Upland areas, which were never affected by mosquitoes, now are. Water levels are decreasing every day. The rains come at the wrong time for farmers and it is leading to many problems".
Greg Holland, director of the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said on April 24, 2006, "The hurricanes we are seeing are indeed a direct result of climate change," and that the wind and warmer water conditions that fuel storms when they form in the Caribbean are, "increasingly due to greenhouse gases. There seems to be no other conclusion you can logically draw." Holland said, "The large bulk of the scientific community say what we are seeing now is linked directly to greenhouse gases." (See also "Global warming?" in tropical cyclone)
Over the course of the 20th century, evaporation rates have reduced worldwide ; this is thought by many to be explained by global dimming. As the climate grows warmer and the causes of global dimming are reduced, evaporation will increase due to warmer oceans. Because the world is a closed system this will cause heavier rainfall, with more erosion. This erosion, in turn, can in vulnerable tropical areas (especially in Africa) lead to desertification due to deforestation. On the other hand, in other areas, increased rainfall lead to growth of forests in dry desert areas.
Many scientists think that increased evaporation could result in more extreme weather as global warming progresses. The IPCC Third Annual Report says: "...global average water vapor concentration and precipitation are projected to increase during the 21st century. By the second half of the 21st century, it is likely that precipitation will have increased over northern mid- to high latitudes and Antarctica in winter. At low latitudes there are both regional increases and decreases over land areas. Larger year to year variations in precipitation are very likely over most areas where an increase in mean precipitation is projected" .
Cost of more extreme weather
It's predicted that each 1% increase in annual precipitation would enlarge the cost of catastrophic storms by 2.8%
The Association of British Insurers has stated that limiting carbon emissions would avoid 80% of the projected additional annual cost of tropical cyclones by the 2080s. The cost is also increasing partly because of building in exposed areas such as coasts and floodplains. The ABI claims that reduction of the vulnerability to some inevitable impacts of climate change, for example through more resilient buildings and improved flood defences, could also result in considerable cost-savings in the longterm.
Destabilization of local climates
In the northern hemisphere, the southern part of the Arctic region (home to 4,000,000 people) has experienced a temperature rise 1 °C to 3 °C (1.8 °F to 5.4 °F) over the last 50 years. Canada, Alaska and Russia are experiencing initial melting of permafrost. This may disrupt ecosystems and by increasing bacterial activity in the soil lead to these areas becoming carbon sources instead of carbon sinks . A study (published in Science) of changes to eastern Siberia's permafrost suggests that it is gradually disappearing in the southern regions, leading to the loss of nearly 11% of Siberia's nearly 11,000 lakes since 1971 . At the same time, western Siberia is at the initial stage where melting permafrost is creating new lakes, which will eventually start disappearing as in the east. Furthermore, permafrost melting will eventually cause methane release from melting permafrost peat bogs.
Hurricanes were thought to be an entirely North Atlantic phenomenon. In late March 2004, the first Atlantic cyclone to form south of the equator hit Brazil with 40 m/s (144 km/h) winds, although some Brazilian meteorologists deny that it was a hurricane. Monitoring systems may have to be extended 1,600 km (1,000 miles) further south. There is no agreement as to whether this hurricane is linked to climate change, but at least one climate model exhibits increased tropical cyclone genesis in the South Atlantic under global warming by the end of the 21st century.
Glacier retreat and disappearance
In historic times, glaciers grew during a cool period from about 1550 to 1850 known as the Little Ice Age. Subsequently, until about 1940, glaciers around the world retreated as the climate warmed. Glacier retreat declined and reversed in many cases from 1950 to 1980 as a slight global cooling occurred. Since 1980, glacier retreat has become increasingly rapid and ubiquitous, and has threatened the existence of many of the glaciers of the world. This process has increased markedly since 1995.
Excluding the ice caps and ice sheets of the Arctic and Antarctic, the total surface area of glaciers worldwide has decreased by 50% since the end of the 19th century . Currently glacier retreat rates and mass balance losses have been increasing in the Andes, Alps, Himalayas, Rocky Mountains and North Cascades.
The loss of glaciers not only directly causes landslides, flash floods and glacial lake overflow, but also increases annual variation in water flows in rivers. Glacier runoff declines in the summer as glaciers decrease in size, this decline is already observable in several regions . Glaciers retain water on mountains in high precipitation years, since the snow cover accumulating on glaciers protects the ice from melting. In warmer and drier years, glaciers offset the lower precipitation amounts with a higher meltwater input .
Of particular importance are the Hindu Kush and Himalayan glacial melts that comprise the principal dry-season water source of many of the major rivers of the South, East and Southeast Asian mainland. Increased melting would cause greater flow for several decades, after which "some areas of the most populated regions on Earth are likely to 'run out of water'" as source glaciers are depleted.
According to a UN climate report, the Himalayan glaciers that are the sources of Asia's biggest rivers - Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Yellow - could disappear by 2035 as temperatures rise. Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of the Himalayan rivers. India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades. In India alone, the Ganges provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people.
The recession of mountain glaciers, notably in Western North America, Franz-Josef Land, Asia, the Alps, Indonesia and Africa, and tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America, has been used to provide qualitative support to the rise in global temperatures since the late 19th century. Many glaciers are being lost to melting further raising concerns about future local water resources in these glacierized areas. The Lewis Glacier, North Cascades pictured at right after melting away in 1990 is one of the 47 North Cascade glaciers observed and all are retreating .
Despite their proximity and importance to human populations, the mountain and valley glaciers of temperate latitudes amount to a small fraction of glacial ice on the earth. About 99% is in the great ice sheets of polar and subpolar Antarctica and Greenland. These continuous continental-scale ice sheets, 3 km (1.8 miles) or more in thickness, cap the polar and subpolar land masses. Like rivers flowing from an enormous lake, numerous outlet glaciers transport ice from the margins of the ice sheet to the ocean.
Glacier retreat has been observed in these outlet glaciers, resulting in an increase of the ice flow rate. In Greenland the period since the year 2000 has brought retreat to several very large glaciers that had long been stable. Three glaciers that have been researched, Helheim, Jakobshavns and Kangerdlugssuaq Glaciers, jointly drain more than 16% of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Satellite images and aerial photographs from the 1950s and 1970s show that the front of the glacier had remained in the same place for decades. But in 2001 it began retreating rapidly, retreating 7.2 km (4.5 miles) between 2001 and 2005. It has also accelerated from 20 m (65 ft)/day to 32 m (104 ft)/day. Jakobshavn Isbræ in west Greenland is generally considered the fastest moving glacier in the world. It had been moving continuously at speeds of over 24 m (78 ft)/day with a stable terminus since at least 1950. The glacier's ice tongue began to break apart in 2000, leading to almost complete disintegration in 2003, while the retreat rate doubled to over 30 m (98 ft)/day.
Glacier retreat and acceleration is also apparent on two important outlet glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Pine Island Glacier, which flows into the Amundsen Sea thinned 3.5 ± 0.9 m (11.5 ± 3 ft) per year and retreated five kilometers (3.1 miles) in 3.8 years. The terminus of the glacier is a floating ice shelf and the point at which it is afloat is retreating 1.2 km/year. This glacier drains a substantial portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and has been referred to as the weak underbelly of this ice sheet. This same pattern of thinning is evident on the neighboring Thwaites Glacier cliff.
The role of the oceans in global warming is a complex one. The oceans serve as a sink for carbon dioxide, taking up much that would otherwise remain in the atmosphere, but increased levels of CO2 have led to ocean acidification. Furthermore, as the temperature of the oceans increases, they become less able to absorb excess CO2. Global warming is projected to have a number of effects on the oceans. Ongoing effects include rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and warming of the ocean surface, leading to increased temperature stratification. Other possible effects include large-scale changes in ocean circulation.
Sea level rise
With increasing average global temperature, the water in the oceans expands in volume, and additional water enters them which had previously been locked up on land in glaciers, for example, the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets. An increase of 1.5 to 4.5 °C is estimated to lead to an increase of 15 to 95 cm (IPCC 2001).
The sea level has risen more than 120 metres since the peak of the last ice age about 18,000 years ago. The bulk of that occurred before 6000 years ago. From 3000 years ago to the start of the 19th century, sea level was almost constant, rising at 0.1 to 0.2 mm/yr; since 1900, the level has risen at an average of 1.7 mm/yr ; since 1993, satellite altimetry from TOPEX/Poseidon indicates a rate of about 3 mm/yr.
In a paper published 18th May 2007, the climatologist, James Hansen presented new evidence. George Monbiot, a British journalist, summarises his findings as follows:
"The IPCC predicts that sea levels could rise by as much as 59 cm this century. Hansen’s paper argues that the slow melting of ice sheets the panel expects doesn’t fit the data. The geological record suggests that ice at the poles does not melt in a gradual and linear fashion, but flips suddenly from one state to another. When temperatures increased to 2-3 degrees above today’s level 3.5 million years ago, sea levels rose not by 59 centimetres but by 25 metres. The ice responded immediately to changes in temperature."
From 1961 to 2003, the global ocean temperature has risen by 0.10°C from the surface to a depth of 700 m. There is variability both year-to-year and over longer time scales, with global ocean heat content observations showing high rates of warming for 1991 to 2003, but some cooling from 2003 to 2007. The temperature of the Antarctic Southern Ocean rose by 0.17 °C (0.31 °F) between the 1950s and the 1980s, nearly twice the rate for the world's oceans as a whole . As well as having effects on ecosystems (e.g. by melting sea ice, affecting algae that grow on its underside), warming reduces the ocean's ability to absorb CO2.
The world’s oceans soak up much of the carbon dioxide produced by living organisms, either as dissolved gas, or in the skeletons of tiny marine creatures that fall to the bottom to become chalk or limestone. Oceans currently absorb about one tonne of CO2 per person per year. It is estimated that the oceans have absorbed around half of all CO2 generated by human activities since 1800 (120,000,000,000 tonnes or 120 petagrams of carbon) .
But in water, carbon dioxide becomes a weak carbonic acid, and the increase in the greenhouse gas since the industrial revolution has already lowered the average pH (the laboratory measure of acidity) of seawater by 0.1 units, to 8.2. Predicted emissions could lower it by a further 0.5 by 2100, to a level not seen for millions of years.
There are concerns that increasing acidification could have a particularly detrimental effect on corals (16% of the world's coral reefs have died from bleaching caused by warm water in 1998, which coincidentally was the warmest year ever recorded ) and other marine organisms with calcium carbonate shells .
Shutdown of thermohaline circulation
There is some speculation that global warming could, via a shutdown or slowdown of the thermohaline circulation, trigger localized cooling in the North Atlantic and lead to cooling, or lesser warming, in that region. This would affect in particular areas like Scandinavia and Britain that are warmed by the North Atlantic drift. More significantly, it could lead to an oceanic anoxic event.
The chances of this near-term collapse of the circulation are unclear; there is some evidence for the short-term stability of the Gulf Stream and possible weakening of the North Atlantic drift. However, the degree of weakening, and whether it will be sufficient to shut down the circulation, is under debate. As yet, no cooling has been found in northern Europe or nearby seas.
Positive feedback effects
Some of the observed and potential effects of global warming are positive feedbacks, contributing directly to further global warming.
Methane release from melting permafrost peat bogs
Western Siberia is the world's largest peat bog, a one million square kilometer region of permafrost peat bog that was formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The melting of its permafrost is likely to lead to the release, over decades, of large quantities of methane. As much as 70,000 million tonnes of methane, an extremely effective greenhouse gas, might be released over the next few decades, creating an additional source of greenhouse gas emissions . Similar melting has been observed in eastern Siberia .
Methane release from hydrates
Methane clathrate, also called methane hydrate, is a form of water ice that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure. Extremely large deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of Earth. The sudden release of large amounts of natural gas from methane clathrate deposits, in a runaway greenhouse effect, has been hypothesized as a cause of past and possibly future climate changes. The release of this trapped methane is a potential major outcome of a rise in temperature; it is thought that this might increase the global temperature by an additional 5° in itself, as methane is much more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The theory also predicts this will greatly affect available oxygen content of the atmophere. This theory has been proposed to explain the most severe mass extinction event on earth known as the Permian-Triassic extinction event.
Carbon cycle feedbacks
There have been predictions, and some evidence, that global warming might cause loss of carbon from terrestrial ecosystems, leading to an increase of atmospheric CO2 levels. Several climate models indicate that global warming through the 21st century could be accelerated by the response of the terrestrial carbon cycle to such warming . All 11 models in the C4MIP study found that a larger fraction of anthropogenic CO2 will stay airborne if climate change is accounted for. By the end of the twenty-first century, this additional CO2 varied between 20 and 200 ppm for the two extreme models, the majority of the models lying between 50 and 100 ppm. The higher CO2 levels led to an additional climate warming ranging between 0.1° and 1.5 °C. However, there was still a large uncertainty on the magnitude of these sensitivities. Eight models attributed most of the changes to the land, while three attributed it to the ocean . The strongest feedbacks in these cases are due to increased respiration of carbon from soils throughout the high latitude boreal forests of the Northern Hemisphere. One model in particular ( HadCM3) indicates a secondary carbon cycle feedback due to the loss of much of the Amazon rainforest in response to significantly reduced precipitation over tropical South America. While models disagree on the strength of any terrestrial carbon cycle feedback, they each suggest any such feedback would accelerate global warming.
Observations show that soils in England have been losing carbon at the rate of four million tonnes a year for the past 25 years according to a paper in Nature by Bellamy et al. in September 2005, who note that these results are unlikely to be explained by land use changes. Results such as this rely on a dense sampling network and thus are not available on a global scale. Extrapolating to all of the United Kingdom, they estimate annual losses of 13 million tons per year. This is as much as the annual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions achieved by the UK under the Kyoto Treaty (12.7 million tons of carbon per year).
Rising global temperature might cause forest fires to occur on larger scale, and more regularly. This releases more stored carbon into the atmosphere than the carbon cycle can naturally re-absorb, as well as reducing the overall forest area on the planet, creating a positive feedback loop. Part of that feedback loop is more rapid growth of replacement forests and a northward migration of forests as northern latitudes become more suitable climates for sustaining forests. There is a question of whether the burning of renewable fuels such as forests should be counted as contributing to global warming.
Retreat of sea ice
The sea absorbs heat from the sun, while the ice largely reflects the sun rays back to space. Thus, retreating sea ice will allow the sun to warm the now exposed sea water, contributing to further warming. The mechanism is the same as when a black car heats up faster in sunlight than a white car. This albedo change is also the main reason why IPCC predict polar temperatures in the northern hemisphere to rise up to twice as much as those of the rest of the world. In September 2007, the Arctic sea ice area reached about half the size of the average summer minimum area between 1979 to 2000. Based on the accelerated loss, predictions are that by 2030 the Arctic could be ice-free part of the year. Also in September 2007, Arctic sea ice retreated far enough for the Northwest Passage to become navigable to shipping for the first time in recorded history. The polar amplification of global warming is not predicted to occur in the southern hemisphere. The Antarctic sea ice reached its greatest extent on record since the beginning of observation in 1979, but the gain in ice in the south is exceeded by the loss in the north. The trend for global sea ice, northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere combined is clearly a decline.
Negative feedback effects
Following Le Chatelier's principle, the chemical equilibrium of the Earth's carbon cycle will shift in response to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The primary driver of this is the ocean, which absorbs anthropogenic CO2 via the so-called solubility pump. At present this accounts for only about one third of the current emissions, but ultimately most (~75%) of the CO2 emitted by human activities will dissolve in the ocean over a period of centuries: "A better approximation of the lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 for public discussion might be 300 years, plus 25% that lasts forever". However, the rate at which the ocean will take it up in the future is less certain, and will be affected by stratification induced by warming and, potentially, changes in the ocean's thermohaline circulation.
Also, the thermal radiation of the Earth rises in proportion to the fourth power of temperature.
The impact of these negative feedback effects in relation to the positive feedback effects are part of IPCC's global climate models.
Many estimates of aggregate net economic costs of damages from climate change across the globe, the social cost of carbon (SCC), expressed in terms of future net benefits and costs that are discounted to the present, are now available. Peer-reviewed estimates of the SCC for 2005 have an average value of US$43 per tonne of carbon (tC) (i.e., US$12 per tonne of carbon dioxide) but the range around this mean is large. For example, in a survey of 100 estimates, the values ran from US$-10 per tonne of carbon (US$-3 per tonne of carbon dioxide) up to US$350/tC (US$95 per tonne of carbon dioxide.)
Nicholas Stern, the former Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank, states in an October 29, 2006, review that climate change could affect growth, which could be cut by one-fifth unless drastic action is taken. Stern has warned that one percent of global GDP is required to be invested in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, and that failure to do so could risk a recession worth up to twenty percent of global GDP. Stern’s report suggests that climate change threatens to be the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen. The report has had significant political effects: Australia reported two days after the report was released that they would allott AU$60 million to projects to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Stern Review has been criticized by some economists, saying that Stern did not consider costs past 2200, that he used an incorrect discount rate in his calculations, and that stopping or significantly slowing climate change will require deep emission cuts everywhere. Other economists have supported Stern's approach , or argued that Stern's estimates are reasonable, even if the method by which he reached them is open to criticism. .
In a 2004 comment on the economic effect of global warming in Copenhagen Consensus, Professor Robert O. Mendelsohn of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, stated that
- "A series of studies on the impacts of climate change have systematically shown that the older literature overestimated climate damages by failing to allow for adaptation and for climate benefits (see Fankhauser et al 1997; Mendelsohn and Newmann 1999; Tol 1999; Mendelsohn et al 2000; Mendelsohn 2001;Maddison 2001; Tol 2002; Sohngen et al 2002; Pearce 2003; Mendelsohn and Williams 2004). These new studies imply that impacts depend heavily upon initial temperatures (latitude). Countries in the polar region are likely to receive large benefits from warming, countries in the mid-latitudes will at first benefit and only begin to be harmed if temperatures rise above 2.5C (Mendelsohn et al 2000). Only countries in the tropical and subtropical regions are likely to be harmed immediately by warming and be subject to the magnitudes of impacts first thought likely (Mendelsohn et al 2000). Summing these regional impacts across the globe implies that warming benefits and damages will likely offset each other until warming passes 2.5C and even then it will be far smaller on net than originally thought (Mendelsohn and Williams 2004)."
Effects on agriculture
For some time it was hoped that a positive effect of global warming would be increased agricultural yields, because of the role of carbon dioxide in photosynthesis, especially in preventing photorespiration, which is responsible for significant destruction of several crops. In Iceland, rising temperatures have made possible the widespread sowing of barley, which was untenable twenty years ago. Some of the warming is due to a local (possibly temporary) effect via ocean currents from the Caribbean, which has also affected fish stocks.
While local benefits may be felt in some regions (such as Siberia), recent evidence is that global yields will be negatively affected. "Rising atmospheric temperatures, longer droughts and side-effects of both, such as higher levels of ground-level ozone gas, are likely to bring about a substantial reduction in crop yields in the coming decades, large-scale experiments have shown" .
Moreover, the region likely to be worst affected is Africa, both because its geography makes it particularly vulnerable, and because seventy per cent of the population rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. Tanzania's official report on climate change suggests that the areas that usually get two rainfalls in the year will probably get more, and those that get only one rainy season will get far less. The net result is expected to be that 33% less maize—the country's staple crop—will be grown.
Climate change may be one of the causes of the Darfur conflict. The combination of decades of drought, desertification and overpopulation are among the causes of the conflict, because the Arab Baggara nomads searching for water have to take their livestock further south, to land mainly occupied by farming peoples.
- "The scale of historical climate change, as recorded in Northern Darfur, is almost unprecedented: the reduction in rainfall has turned millions of hectares of already marginal semi-desert grazing land into desert. The impact of climate change is considered to be directly related to the conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on the livelihoods of pastoralist societies, forcing them to move south to find pasture," the UNEP report states.
An industry very directly affected by the risks is the insurance industry; the number of major natural disasters has tripled since the 1960s, and insured losses increased fifteenfold in real terms (adjusted for inflation). According to one study, 35–40% of the worst catastrophes have been climate change related. Over the past three decades, the proportion of the global population affected by weather-related disasters has doubled in linear trend, rising from roughly 2% in 1975 to 4% in 2001.
According to a 2005 report from the Association of British Insurers, limiting carbon emissions could avoid 80% of the projected additional annual cost of tropical cyclones by the 2080s. A June 2004 report by the Association of British Insurers declared "Climate change is not a remote issue for future generations to deal with. It is, in various forms, here already, impacting on insurers' businesses now." It noted that weather risks for households and property were already increasing by 2-4 % per year due to changing weather, and that claims for storm and flood damages in the UK had doubled to over £6 billion over the period 1998–2003, compared to the previous five years. The results are rising insurance premiums, and the risk that in some areas flood insurance will become unaffordable for some.
Financial institutions, including the world's two largest insurance companies, Munich Re and Swiss Re, warned in a 2002 study that "the increasing frequency of severe climatic events, coupled with social trends" could cost almost US$150 billion each year in the next decade. These costs would, through increased costs related to insurance and disaster relief, burden customers, taxpayers, and industry alike.
In the United States, insurance losses have also greatly increased. According to Choi and Fisher (2003) each 1% increase in annual precipitation could enlarge catastrophe loss by as much as 2.8%. Gross increases are mostly attributed to increased population and property values in vulnerable coastal areas, though there was also an increase in frequency of weather-related events like heavy rainfalls since the 1950s .
Roads, airport runways, railway lines and pipelines, (including oil pipelines, sewers, water mains etc) may require increased maintenance and renewal as they become subject to greater temperature variation. Regions already adversely affected include areas of permafrost, which are subject to high levels of subsidence, resulting in buckling roads, sunken foundations, and severely cracked runways.
For historical reasons to do with trade, many of the world's largest and most prosperous cities are on the coast, and the cost of building better coastal defenses (due to the rising sea level) is likely to be considerable. Some countries will be more affected than others — low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Netherlands would be worst hit by any sea level rise, in terms of floods or the cost of preventing them.
In developing countries, the poorest often live on flood plains, because it is the only available space, or fertile agricultural land. These settlements often lack infrastructure such as dykes and early warning systems. Poorer communities also tend to lack the insurance, savings or access to credit needed to recover from disasters.
Some Pacific Ocean island nations, such as Tuvalu, are concerned about the possibility of an eventual evacuation, as flood defense may become economically inviable for them. Tuvalu already has an ad hoc agreement with New Zealand to allow phased relocation.
In the 1990s a variety of estimates placed the number of environmental refugees at around 25 million. (Environmental refugees are not included in the official definition of refugees, which only includes migrants fleeing persecution.) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which advises the world’s governments under the auspices of the UN, estimated that 150 million environmental refugees will exist in the year 2050, due mainly to the effects of coastal flooding, shoreline erosion and agricultural disruption (150 million means 1.5% of 2050’s predicted 10 billion world population).
Melting Arctic ice may open the Northwest Passage in summer, which would cut 5,000 nautical miles (9,000 km) from shipping routes between Europe and Asia. This would be of particular relevance for supertankers which are too big to fit through the Panama Canal and currently have to go around the tip of South America. According to the Canadian Ice Service, the amount of ice in Canada's eastern Arctic Archipelago decreased by 15% between 1969 and 2004.
In September 2007, the Arctic Ice Cap retreated far enough for the Northwest Passage to become navigable to shipping for the first time in recorded history.
While the reduction of summer ice in the Arctic may be a boon to shipping, this same phenomenon threatens the Arctic ecosystem, most notably polar bears which depend on ice floes. Subsistence hunters such as the Inuit peoples will find their livelihoods and cultures increasingly threatened as the ecosystem changes due to global warming.
The combined effects of global warming may impact particularly harshly on people and countries without the resources to mitigate those effects. This may slow economic development and poverty reduction, and make it harder to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
In October 2004 the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, a coalition of development and environment NGOs, issued a report Up in Smoke on the effects of climate change on development. This report, and the July 2005 report Africa - Up in Smoke? predicted increased hunger and disease due to decreased rainfall and severe weather events, particularly in Africa. These are likely to have severe impacts on development for those affected.
Unchecked global warming could affect most terrestrial ecoregions. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems will change; some species are being forced out of their habitats ( possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others are flourishing. Secondary effects of global warming, such as lessened snow cover, rising sea levels, and weather changes, may influence not only human activities but also the ecosystem. Studying the association between Earth climate and extinctions over the past 520 million years, scientists from University of York write, "The global temperatures predicted for the coming centuries may trigger a new ‘mass extinction event’, where over 50 per cent of animal and plant species would be wiped out."
Many of the species at risk are Arctic and Antarctic fauna such as polar bears and emperor penguins. Species that rely on cold weather conditions such as gyrfalcons, and snowy owls that prey on lemmings that use the cold winter to their advantage may be hit hard. Marine invertebrates enjoy peak growth at the temperatures they have adapted to, regardless of how cold these may be, and cold-blooded animals found at greater latitudes and altitudes generally grow faster to compensate for the short growing season. Warmer-than-ideal conditions result in higher metabolism and consequent reductions in body size despite increased foraging, which in turn elevates the risk of predation. Indeed, even a slight increase in temperature during development impairs growth efficiency and survival rate in rainbow trout.
Rising temperatures are beginning to have a noticeable impact on birds, and butterflies have shifted their ranges northward by 200 km in Europe and North America. Plants lag behind, and larger animals' migration is slowed down by cities and highways. In Britain, spring butterflies are appearing an average of 6 days earlier than two decades ago . In the Arctic, the waters of Hudson Bay are ice-free for three weeks longer than they were thirty years ago, affecting polar bears, which prefer to hunt on sea ice..
Two 2002 studies in Nature (vol 421) surveyed the scientific literature to find recent changes in range or seasonal behaviour by plant and animal species. Of species showing recent change, 4 out of 5 shifted their ranges towards the poles or higher altitudes, creating " refugee species". Frogs were breeding, flowers blossoming and birds migrating an average 2.3 days earlier each decade; butterflies, birds and plants moving towards the poles by 6.1 km per decade . A 2005 study concludes human activity is the cause of the temperature rise and resultant changing species behaviour, and links these effects with the predictions of climate models to provide validation for them . Scientists have observed that Antarctic hair grass is colonizing areas of Antarctica where previously their survival range was limited.
Mechanistic studies have documented extinctions due to recent climate change: McLaughlin et al. documented two populations of Bay checkerspot butterfly being threatened by precipitation change. Parmesan states, "Few studies have been conducted at a scale that encompasses an entire species" and McLaughlin et al. agreed "few mechanistic studies have linked extinctions to recent climate change." Daniel Botkin and other authors in one study believe that projected rates of extinction are overestimated.
Many species of freshwater and saltwater plants and animals are dependent on glacier-fed waters to ensure a cold water habitat that they have adapted to. Some species of freshwater fish need cold water to survive and to reproduce, and this is especially true with Salmon and Cutthroat trout. Reduced glacier runoff can lead to insufficient stream flow to allow these species to thrive. Ocean krill, a cornerstone species, prefer cold water and are the primary food source for aquatic mammals such as the Blue whale. Alterations to the ocean currents, due to increased freshwater inputs from glacier melt, and the potential alterations to thermohaline circulation of the worlds oceans, may impact existing fisheries upon which humans depend as well.
Pine forests in British Columbia have been devastated by a pine beetle infestation, which has expanded unhindered since 1998 at least in part due to the lack of severe winters since that time; a few days of extreme cold kill most mountain pine beetles and have kept outbreaks in the past naturally contained. The infestation, which will have killed 50% of the lodgepole pines by 2008 has passed to Alberta and will spread further East and eventually into America given continued milder winters. Besides the immediate ecological and economic impact, the huge dead forests provide a fire risk as well.
Forests in some regions potentially face an increased risk of forest fires. The 10-year average of boreal forest burned in North America, after several decades of around 10,000 km² (2.5 million acres), has increased steadily since 1970 to more than 28,000 km² (7 million acres) annually.. This change may be due in part to changes in forest management practices. In the western U. S., since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986. A similar increase in wildfire activity has been reported in Canada from 1920 to 1999.
Also note forest fires since 1997 in Indonesia. The fires are started to clear forest for agriculture. These occur from time to time and can set fire to the large peat bogs in that region. The CO2 released by these peat bog fires has been estimated, in an average year, to release 15% of the quantity of CO2 produced by fossil fuel combustion.
Mountains cover approximately 25 percent of earth's surface and provide a home to more than one-tenth of global human population. Changes in global climate pose a number of potential risks to mountain habitats. Researchers expect that over time, climate change will affect mountain and lowland ecosystems, the frequency and intensity of forest fires, the diversity of wildlife, and the distribution of water.
Studies suggest that a warmer climate in the United States would cause lower-elevation habitats to expand into the higher alpine zone. Such a shift would encroach on the rare alpine meadows and other high-altitude habitats. High-elevation plants and animals have limited space available for new habitat as they move higher on the mountains in order to adapt to long-term changes in regional climate.
Changes in climate will also affect the depth of the mountains snowpacks and glaciers. Any changes in their seasonal melting can have powerful impacts on areas that rely on freshwater runoff from mountains. Rising temperature may cause snow to melt earlier and faster in the spring and shift the timing and distribution of runoff. These changes could affect the availability of freshwater for natural systems and human uses.
Increasing average temperature and carbon dioxide may have the effect of improving ecosystems' productivity. In photorespiration, carbon dioxide that oxygen can enter a plant's chloroplasts and take the place of carbon dioxide in the Calvin cycle. This causes the sugars being made to be destroyed, suppressing growth. Higher carbon dioxide concentrations tend to reduce photorespiration. Satellite data shows that the productivity of the northern hemisphere has increased since 1982 (although attribution of this increase to a specific cause is difficult).
IPCC models predict that higher CO2 concentrations would only spur growth of flora up to a point, because in many regions the limiting factors are water or nutrients, not temperature or CO2; after that, greenhouse effects and warming would continue but there would be no compensatory increase in growth.
Research done by the Swiss Canopy Crane Project suggests that slow-growing trees only are stimulated in growth for a short period under higher CO2 levels, while faster growing plants like liana benefit in the long term. In general, but especially in rain forests, this means that liana become the prevalent species; and because they decompose much faster than trees their carbon content is more quickly returned to the atmosphere. Slow growing trees incorporate atmospheric carbon for decades.
Secondary evidence of global warming — reduced snow cover, rising sea levels, weather changes — provides examples of consequences of global warming that may influence not only human activities but also ecosystems. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems may change; some species may be forced out of their habitats (possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others may flourish. Few of the terrestrial ecoregions on Earth could expect to be unaffected.
Increasing carbon dioxide may increase ecosystems' productivity to a point. Ecosystems' unpredictable interactions with other aspects of climate change makes the possible environmental impact of this is unclear, though. An increase in the total amount of biomass produced may not be necessarily positive: biodiversity can still decrease even though a relatively small number of species are flourishing.
Positive eustasy may contaminate groundwater, affecting drinking water and agriculture in coastal zones. Increased evaporation will reduce the effectiveness of reservoirs. Increased extreme weather means more water falls on hardened ground unable to absorb it, leading to flash floods instead of a replenishment of soil moisture or groundwater levels. In some areas, shrinking glaciers threaten the water supply. The continued retreat of glaciers will have a number of different impacts. In areas that are heavily dependent on water runoff from glaciers that melt during the warmer summer months, a continuation of the current retreat will eventually deplete the glacial ice and substantially reduce or eliminate runoff. A reduction in runoff will affect the ability to irrigate crops and will reduce summer stream flows necessary to keep dams and reservoirs replenished. This situation is particularly acute for irrigation in South America, where numerous artificial lakes are filled almost exclusively by glacial melt. Central Asian countries have also been historically dependent on the seasonal glacier melt water for irrigation and drinking supplies. In Norway, the Alps, and the Pacific Northwest of North America, glacier runoff is important for hydropower. Higher temperatures will also increase the demand for water for the purposes of cooling and hydration.
In the Sahel, there has been on average a 25% decrease in annual rainfall over the past 30 years.
Direct effects of temperature rise
The most direct effect of climate change would be the impacts of hotter temperatures themselves. Extreme high temperatures increase the number of people who die on a given day for many reasons: people with heart problems are vulnerable because one's cardiovascular system must work harder to keep the body cool during hot weather, heat exhaustion, and some respiratory problems increase. Global warming could mean more cardiovascular diseases, doctors warn. Higher air temperature also increase the concentration of ozone at ground level. In the lower atmosphere, ozone is a harmful pollutant. It damages lung tissues and causes problems for people with asthma and other lung diseases.
Rising temperatures have two opposing direct effects on mortality: higher temperatures in winter reduce deaths from cold; higher temperatures in summer increase heat-related deaths.
The distribution of these changes obviously differs. Palutikof et al calculate that in England and Wales for a 1 °C temperature rise the reduced deaths from cold outweigh the increased deaths from heat, resulting in a reduction in annual average mortality of 7000. The European heat wave of 2003 killed 22,000–35,000 people, based on normal mortality rates. Peter A. Stott from the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research estimated with 90% confidence that past human influence on climate was responsible for at least half the risk of the 2003 European summer heat-wave. In the United States, more than 1000 people die from the cold each year, while twice that number die from the heat. The 2006 United States heat wave has killed 139 people in California as of 29 July 2006. Deaths of livestock have not been well-documented. Fresno, in the central California valley, had six consecutive days of 110 degree-plus Fahrenheit temperatures.
Spread of disease
Global warming is expected to extend the favourable zones for vectors conveying infectious disease such as dengue fever and malaria In poorer countries, this may simply lead to higher incidence of such diseases. In richer countries, where such diseases have been eliminated or kept in check by vaccination, draining swamps and using pesticides, the consequences may be felt more in economic than health terms. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says global warming could lead to a major increase in insect-borne diseases in Britain and Europe, as northern Europe becomes warmer, ticks - which carry encephalitis and lyme disease - and sandflies - which carry visceral leishmaniasis - are likely to move in.
A number of groups have begun calling attention to the security implications of global warming, with particular attention being paid to this issue in 2007. On April 15, 2007, the Military Advisory Board, a panel of retired U.S. generals and admirals released a report entitled "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change." The report predicts that global warming will have significant security implications, in particular serving as a "threat multiplier" in already volatile regions. Just two days later, on April 17, the U.N. Security Council held a debate on the security implications of climate change, during which Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett argued that “An unstable climate will exacerbate some of the core drivers of conflict, such as migratory pressures and competition for resources.” And several weeks earlier, U.S. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NB) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that would require federal intelligence agencies to collaborate on a National Intelligence Estimate to evaluate the security challenges presented by climate change.
In November 2007, two Washington think tanks, the established Centre for Strategic and International Studies and the newer Centre for a New American Security, published a report analysing the worldwide security implications of three different global warming scenarios. The report considers three different scenarios, two over a roughly 30 year perspective and one covering the time up to 2007. Its general results include:
- "There is a lack of rigorously tested data or reliable modeling to determine with any sense of certainty the ultimate path and pace of temperature increase or sea level rise associated with climate change in the decades ahead", "most scientific predictions in the overall arena of climate change over the last two decades, when compared with ultimate outcomes, have been consistently below what has actually transpired" and "this tendency should provide some context when examining current predictions of future climate parameters".
- "A few countries may benefit from climate change in the short term, but there will be no "winners...While growing seasons might lengthen in some areas, or frozen seaways might open to new maritime traffic in others, the negative offsetting consequences -- such as a collapse of ocean systems and their fisheries -- could easily negate any perceived local or national advantages."
- "Perhaps the most worrisome problems associated with rising temperatures and sea levels are from large-scale migrations of people -- both inside nations and across existing national borders. "
- "Poor and underdeveloped areas are likely to have fewer resources and less stamina to deal with climate change -- in even its very modest and early manifestations."
- "The flooding of coastal communities around the world, especially in the Netherlands, the United States, South Asia, and China, has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities. Armed conflict between nations over resources, such as the Nile and its tributaries, is likely..."