“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning.”
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, known for his clear-eyed and stark commentary on climate change, gave this warning at a briefing at the UN’s headquarters in New York in July.
Indeed, the catastrophic effects of climate change are already taking place, impacting everything from economies to migration, health to education, life expectancies to global hunger — and they are terrifying.
Just this year, extreme weather events have devastated countries around the world including India, the Philippines, Myanmar, Sudan, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Brazil, and countless more. These events, fueled by human-caused climate change, are costing lives, livelihoods, and dollars. In fact, they've cost 2 million lives and $4 trillion over the past 50 years, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Worse still, as Guterres warns, we ain’t seen nothing yet.
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the average global temperature will rise by two to four degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Overshooting that mark even slightly means more severe heatwaves, sea levels rising up to 10 meters, hunger and famine across wide swathes of the world, and a billion people fleeing climate change-induced disaster. These aren’t worst-case scenarios. They’re projections of what will happen should current trends continue.
It’s worth repeating for the people at the back that it's the world's most vulnerable who have least contributed to causing this crisis who are being and will continue to be impacted the most.
If all of this feels overwhelming, you’re not alone. But if, like us and activists, campaigners, and Global Citizens around the world, you will keep fighting until the very last moment, then keep reading, stay informed, and continue to take action.
Here are 11 facts that show the true injustice and inequality of the climate crisis and the impacts it's having, and six that will keep the flame of hope alive that we’ll see an end to the climate catastrophe in our lifetimes.
1. The world’s most vulnerable countries and people contribute the least to the climate crisis, and yet are impacted the most by it.
People from the Global South are on the front lines of the climate crisis, yet they have done the least to cause it.
Meanwhile, rich countries (who are historically responsible for the crisis) are failing to live up to their promises to cut emissions or to provide finance to help poorer nations fight and adapt to climate change.
For example, back in 2009, wealthy nations promised to deliver $100 billion a year in climate financing every year from 2020 to 2025. It’s now 2023, and that funding has yet to be delivered.
At the opening of the Global Financial Pact Summit in Paris in June 2023, economists commissioned by the COP28 Presidency said that the $100 billion target is likely to be met this year.
However, the estimate means nothing without being verified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization that works to shape policies. We’ll believe it when we see it.
2. This will be the coldest year for the rest of your life.
Three continents, the US, Europe, and China, are experiencing some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. June 2023 was the hottest June on record, according to NASA analysis. July 4 was the hottest day on Earth since records began.
But the most frightening news of all? This will be the coldest summer for the rest of our lives, according to NASA scientist, Peter Kalmus.
3. We have already extracted more fossil fuels from the ground than we have the budget to burn.
Projected CO2 emissions from all the fossil fuel-producing infrastructure that currently exists (including under-construction oil and gas fields and coal mines) would warm the world beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius, a global climate target that aims to limit warming to said level by 2100, in order to prevent the planet from slipping into further climate crises.
That’s right, we’ve already got enough fossil fuels to blast through the limit deemed safe for humanity.
Yet, Exxon is being allowed to invest billions in a new offshore project off the coast of Guyana; UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has just authorized more than 100 new North Sea licenses; and Canada’s government gave the green light to the controversial $12 billion Bay du Nord offshore oil project in 2022.
Make it make sense.
4. There could be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050.
Imagine losing your home or livelihood due to a flood. Going hungry because of a failed harvest or a severe drought. Or being forced to flee your home due to desertification, rising sea levels, or a lack of clean drinking water.
This is the reality for millions of climate refugees worldwide — an average of more than 20 million each year.
What’s more is that things are projected to get worse, not better, with an estimated 1.2 billion people displaced by climate change over the next 30 years, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace.
5. Climate change is making poverty worse.
Poverty and climate change are inextricably linked — and we can't solve one without addressing the other.
As global temperatures and sea levels rise, people living in poverty are the most severely impacted.
What’s more, a further 100 million people living in developing countries could be pushed into poverty by climate change by 2030.
6. The climate crisis is driving child marriage.
Picture this: there’s a heatwave, followed by a drought. Your cows have nothing to drink, your crops fail, you’ve got six mouths to feed, and no income. The only option to survive? Finding a husband for one of your daughters in exchange for a bride price.
This is the reality for many families facing the greatest effects of climate change.
Climate change is code red for girls at risk of child marriage. 12 million girls under 18 are married each year, and this is only going to increase with climate change’s growing impacts.
7. Climate change impacts women more than men.
Climate change is a planetary phenomenon that will impact everyone, but its effects are being shaped by pervasive and entrenched gender inequality.
Heat waves, droughts, rising sea levels, and extreme storms disproportionately affect women.
That’s because women are more likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights like the ability to freely move and acquire land, and face systematic violence that escalates during periods of instability.
These factors, and many more, mean that as climate change intensifies, women will struggle the most.
8. More than 90% of the world's coral reefs will die by 2050.
Over the last 30 years, roughly half of the world’s "underwater forests" have been turned to gray, lifeless, biodiversity graveyards.
Even if the world could halt global warming now, scientists still expect that more than 90% of corals will die by 2050.
But thankfully, scientists and organizations are working to save coral reefs. The health of the planet depends on it: coral reefs support a quarter of all marine species, as well as half a billion people around the world.
9. Over 90% of pollution-related deaths happen in low- and middle-income countries.
According to a report by The Lancet, pollution is responsible for approximately 9 million premature deaths per year, corresponding to one in six deaths worldwide.
Of these more than 8 million occur in low- and middle-income countries.
10. We’d need 1.7 planets to support the demand on the Earth’s ecosystems at current consumption rates.
Every year, there comes a day when we have officially used up more from nature than the planet can possibly renew in the entire year.
It’s called Earth Overshoot Day — and every year, it comes earlier. Experts calculate this by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s ecological footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365.
11. Some climate scientists think 1.5 degrees Celsius is no longer feasible.
1.5 degrees. For eight years, the goal of keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels has been the blueprint for global action on the climate crisis.
In 2015, in response to the growing urgency of the climate emergency, nearly every country in the world signed onto the Paris agreement, a landmark international treaty under which 195 nations pledged to hold the Earth’s temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (when the world first started heavily using coal, oil, and gas) and even aim to limit that increase to 1.5 degrees.
However, in March of this year, the annual Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated: “In the near term, global warming is more likely than not to reach 1.5 Celsius.”
In fact, in October 2023, researchers revealed that the world’s carbon emissions are threatening the 1.5 climate threshold sooner than thought.
The 1.5 degrees target is significant because even global warming of that amount, over an extended period, would lead to harsh, new realities for climate vulnerable nations.
Although many scientists believe the 1.5 target is dead, some are still clinging to it — barely, but it's technically possible. As UN Secretary General António Guterres said in September this year: “The 1.5 degrees Celsius limit is achievable but it will take a quantum leap in climate action.”
Okay, now for some slightly less apocalyptic fact-spitting.
1. Investing in renewable energy systems would generate 30 times more jobs compared to fossil fuels.
Worldwide employment in renewable energy reached 12.7 million in 2021, a jump of 700,000 new jobs in one year.
In fact, investing in clean energy would result in 30 times the number of jobs created by a comparable investment in fossil fuels.
Renewable energy is already much cheaper than burning fossil fuels too and it could get even cheaper because the more we build, the cheaper they get. Good news all round.
2. A tax on shipping could yield $100 billion to fight climate change.
The shipping industry emits 2.9% of the world's greenhouse gasses. It has also largely escaped taxation because what happens on the high seas is not in the jurisdiction of any single government.
If we taxed carbon emissions, it would not only encourage shippers to go green faster but the money raised from those taxes, possibly $100 billion a year, could be channeled to poorer countries to help them fight the climate crisis.
3. SDRs and debt pause clauses would help poor countries fight climate change.
The climate crisis is a big complex problem, it needs some big complex solutions.
They might sound like they will make your eyes bleed but take the time to learn about and understand what these avengers could do for the world, and it should flick the hope switch back on in your head.
4. The fossil fuel divestment movement is the fastest-growing divestment campaign in history.
The campaign essentially asks institutions to move their money out of oil, coal, and gas companies for both moral and financial reasons. These institutions include universities, religious institutions, pension funds, local authorities, and charitable foundations.
The DivestInvest movement — started by students — has managed to get 1,508 organizations to divest from oil and gas totalling around $40.4 trillion in assets. That’s as if the entire economies of China and the United States pledged to divest.
And it’s having an impact. Fossil fuel companies may remain rich and powerful for now, but the campaign has hurt them. Public opinion of fossil fuel use has plummeted and for the first time, politicians and political candidates are pledging to reject support from the fossil fuel industry.
5. Amazon deforestation dropped roughly 34% under Lula.
After four years of environmental devastation in Brazil’s Amazon under then President Bolsonaro’s leadership, deforestation dropped by 33.6% during the first six months of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s term.
6. The UN adopted a world-first treaty to protect marine life.
In March 2023, history was made.
After 20 years of campaigning, and 36 hours of lengthy negotiations, almost 200 countries signed a legally-binding treaty that aims to defend the planet's oceans: the High Seas Treaty.
If you want to know how significant this was, just watch this video of UN official Rena Lee’s reaction.
That feeling 🐬 Watch the emotional moment UN official Rena Lee announces a major breakthrough in protecting our oceans.— SBS News (@SBSNews) March 5, 2023
Read more about the significance of the treaty here: https://t.co/hKmy7iq7D7pic.twitter.com/Ej2IsEHUxo