Climate change affects everyone in the world, whether it’s hotter summers, wetter rainstorms, harsher natural disasters, or shortages of your favorite food.
That’s because climate change is a planetary phenomenon. As greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, more heat from the sun gets trapped closer to Earth’s surface, causing temperatures to rise, and destabilizing once-stable systems.
Climate action is, therefore, a matter of climate justice. Phasing out fossil fuels, scaling up renewable energy, and investing in circular economies will mitigate poverty, health crises, and other forms of inequity.
Leaders need to recommit to the $100 billion per year climate financing they promised for adaptation and mitigation. There must be decisive collective action focused on supporting low-income countries and keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And we need to prioritize food security, nutrition, and livelihoods by directing climate adaptation resources to rural communities and smallholder farms, while working to protect and restore nature in partnership with local and marginalized communities.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the financial resources, technology, and public mandate are all available to achieve transformative climate justice, but that only the politics of the status quo, in which profits take precedence over people, stands in the way.
Breaking this stalemate will require a mass movement of people demanding climate action now. Understanding the scope and scale of the crisis will be key.
Here are 15 facts about climate change and why taking action for our future cannot wait.
1. Climate change could push up to 132 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.
Climate change pushes people into poverty in many ways, according to the World Bank. More extreme storms displace more people, uprooting them from their homes and livelihoods. Droughts and floods harm agricultural production, causing price increases for food. By some estimates, global agricultural yields could decline by up to 30% by 2050 without effective adaptation measures.
2. The world is about 1.19°C (2.14°F) warmer than the pre-industrial era.
The vast majority of excess heat trapped by greenhouse gas emissions gets absorbed by the ocean. As a result, it takes enormous shifts to raise temperatures even slightly, because it’s otherwise buffered by the ocean. But when five Hiroshima bombs’ worth of excess heat are absorbed every second by the ocean, you begin to see warming on the scale we now face today.
3. The previous decade was the hottest in recorded history, and the 10 hottest years occurred since 2005.
Humans have a built-in psychological coping tendency known as the “shifting baseline” theory. Essentially, as something changes, our baseline of what’s normal changes as well. So even though temperatures have risen for more than a century, it may not strike the average person as alarming because their baseline shifts on a year-to-year basis. This visualization helps to put the scale and pace of global warming into perspective.
4. The North and South Poles are warming three times faster than the rest of the world.
Antarctica recently clocked temperatures 90 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The accelerated pace of warming in the polar regions is causing widespread destruction.
5. Antarctica is losing 1 billion metric tons of ice every 40 hours.
Ice melt is rapidly accelerating as temperatures rise and feedback loops take over. Over the past 30 years, the earth has lost 28 trillion ton of ice, which is enough to cover the United Kingdom in an ice sheet 100 meters thick.
6. Sea levels have risen by 9 inches over the past century.
That might not seem like a lot, but consider how much water it takes to raise sea levels.
According to NASA, 365 gigatons of water would raise sea levels by a single millimeter. One gigaton contains 264 billion gallons and there’s 25.4 millimeters in an inch.
NASA breaks it down further:
“Greenland has been losing about 280 gigatons of ice per year on average, and Antarctica has lost almost 120 gigatons a year with indications that both melt rates are increasing. A single gigaton of water would fill about 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools; each gigaton represents a billion tons of water.”
7. Storms, droughts, floods, forest fires, and heat waves have become more common and grown more intense as a result of warmer temperatures and rising sea levels.
The United Nations found that climate-related disasters surged five-fold over the past 50 years, with disproportionate impacts being felt in poorer countries. Climate disasters are costing countries hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Countries aren’t just facing a gradual increase in temperatures. They’re also facing more extreme heat waves. In fact, severe heat waves that would happen once every 10 years are now happening twice as frequently, while even rarer, twice-in-a-century heat waves are happening five times as often.
8. Up to 1 million species are severely threatened by climate change.
Animals are already going extinct from the climate crisis as their habitats shrink, food and water sources become scarce, and living conditions intensify. The International Union of Concerned Scientists recently elevated 10,967 animals to threatened status because of climate change. The United Nations reported in 2019 that 1 million species are at risk of extinction if current trends of habitat loss and climate change continue.
9. The 20 richest countries are responsible for 80% of carbon emissions.
The climate crisis stems primarily from rich countries that have burned the majority of fossil fuels globally throughout history. The United States alone accounts for 20% of emissions since 1850. This unfair distribution continues today as the richest 1% of people more than double the emissions total of the poorest 50%, according to Oxfam.
For example, African countries account for only 4% of global carbon emissions, while the continent faces severe droughts, desertification, and extreme weather tied to climate change.
10. Greenhouse gas emissions, the most significant drivers of warming, have increased by about 1.5% per year for the last 10 years.
Even though scientists and environmental groups have been urging countries to phase out fossil fuels for decades, greenhouse gas emissions from their use continue to rise. The COVID-19 pandemic featured a temporary decline in emissions, but they’ve since more than rebounded to their highest level in history in 2021.
11. More than 8 million people — 1 in every 5 global deaths — die prematurely each year from fossil fuel-based pollution.
Burning fossil fuels doesn’t just warm the planet. It also fills the atmosphere with toxic particles and particulate matter that gets inside of our bodies and causes health problems. In fact, 8.7 million deaths can be attributed to fossil fuel pollution annually.
12. Malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress attributable to climate change are projected to cause about 250,000 more deaths every year between 2030.
Direct pollution is one way fossil fuels kill people. But they also indirectly exacerbate other health crises. Warmer temperatures expand the range of mosquitoes that carry malaria, for example, while also putting pressure on food systems, making it harder for people to get food, according to the World Health Organization.
An additional 189 million people are expected to go hungry if average global temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Food Programme. If temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius, that number could reach 1.8 billion.
13. Investing $1.8 trillion in climate adaptation would prevent $7.1 trillion in climate impacts.
Helping communities adapt to the climate crisis prevents health crises, mitigates poverty, and stabilizes economies, according to the United Nations Environmental Department.
14. Renewable energy is cheaper than ever.
More than 62% of wind, solar, and other renewables that came online in 2020 were cheaper forms of energy than fossil fuels, according to the World Economic Forum. If countries shifted the $5.9 trillion spent on fossil fuel subsidies to renewables, the costs of green energy would be even cheaper.
15. It’s “Up to Us.”
Countries have to reach peak greenhouse emissions by 2025, and then nearly halve them by the end of the decade to achieve the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
That’s technically possible — the resources, technology, and public mandate are available to enable this shift, according to the IPCC.
The only thing standing in the way, the latest IPCC reports’ authors write, is political will. World leaders and corporations are not only failing to take meaningful climate action, but they’re continuing to prop up the fossil fuel industry.
So averting climate catastrophe and building a future that works for all of us depends on what we do today, tomorrow, and in the weeks and months ahead. We have to demand that governments immediately phase out fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy, while taking steps in our own communities to transition to circular economies.
You can join the End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can't Wait campaign by signing up as a Global Citizen (either here or by downloading the Global Citizen app) and joining us in taking climate action NOW.