It’s a depressing fact: global temperatures are on the rise, with the greatest increase happening in the past 35 years. The oceans are also getting warmer, and at a faster rate than had been previously believed. As a result, sea levels are rising, and ocean acidity is rising as a result of carbon dioxide absorption. The effects of global warming — shrinking ice sheets, damage from fires, floods, and other extreme weather events — are so severe that they are visible from space.
Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the melting iceberg. Every year, global warming intensifies, and the consequences are becoming more severe. Supercharged storms, heatwaves, and droughts are becoming more frequent and intense.
These changes threaten the lives and livelihoods of billions of people and can overwhelm the capacities of governments around the world. Ultimately, it’s putting our progress to ending extreme poverty at risk. Read on to discover more alarming global warming facts.
What Is Global Warming?
Global warming is the gradual increase in the average temperature of the planet over a long period of time. The planet has been gradually warming up for some time now, but it has increased rapidly in the last century. As our population has grown, so has our reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. These fuels emit greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, which trap heat from the sun in the Earth's atmosphere.
This creates what is known as the greenhouse effect. While some of these gasses occur naturally, human activities have dramatically increased their levels, leading to the current crisis of global warming. These pollutants accumulate in the atmosphere and absorb sunlight and solar radiation, preventing them from escaping into space. While some greenhouse gasses occur naturally, human activities have significantly increased their concentration in the atmosphere, leading to the current crisis we call global warming.
3 Big Facts You Should Know About Global Warming
- The planet is 1.22 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, as of March 2023.
- The 20 richest countries account for about 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.
- We can prevent more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming if we act now.
Global Warming vs. Climate Change: What’s the Difference?
Many people think the definition of global warming is just warmer temperatures. But rising temperatures are just the beginning of the story.
People often use climate change and global warming to mean the same thing, but they are two separate phenomena: global warming (when temperatures rise) drives climate change (the gradual and long-term changes in the typical weather patterns that have been responsible for the local, regional, and global climates on earth).
What Are the Causes of Global Warming?
Hi, it’s us, we’re the problem here. Human activities that release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere are the primary global warming causes. Our burning of fossil fuels, clearing of trees, and large-scale agriculture has released gasses to levels not seen in 3 million years.
Even a slight rise in temperature could have catastrophic consequences, like exposing millions of people to life-threatening water scarcity, heatwaves, and flooding.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth's average annual temperature has risen by over 1 degree Celsius or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. The rate of increase has more than doubled since 1981, with the global temperature rising by 0.18 degrees Celsius, or 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit per decade in the past 40 years. This unprecedented warming has already caused more frequent and severe weather events, rising sea levels, and ecosystem shifts.
What Are the Effects of Global Warming?
Droughts and other extreme weather events are devastating farmland and other food sources, causing hunger and famine to increase; at the same time rising sea levels are sinking islands. Entire communities are being decimated by floods; and numerous animal species are at risk disappearing forever.
And that’s just the beginning when it comes to the effects of global warming.
Global warming has far-reaching and numerous effects. It causes glaciers and ice caps to melt, leading to rising sea levels that put coastal communities at risk and disrupt global weather patterns. It also leads to more severe and frequent extreme weather events, including heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and heavy rainfall events. Changes in rain patterns are also occurring, with some regions experiencing increased rainfall and others experiencing more extended periods of drought.
As temperatures continue to rise, habitats are disappearing, and ecosystems are being altered, leading to a loss of species diversity. Global warming is not only endangering the planet's biodiversity, but it is also causing significant public health impacts, like more heat-related illnesses, breathing problems, and other health issues, especially among vulnerable populations.
Each year we learn about more global warming effects, and each year we discover new evidence of its devastating impact on the planet.
Who Is Most Impacted by Global Warming?
Although global warming impacts everyone, not everyone is impacted equally. Marginalized and disadvantaged communities, such as low-income communities, Indigenous peoples, women and children, and those living in areas with high levels of exposure to climate-related risks, are typically the most impacted by global warming.
The negative impacts of global warming disproportionately affect marginalized communities who are already disadvantaged due to systemic inequities in housing, health care, and labor. These communities — despite contributing the least to global warming — are more vulnerable to its worst effects.
Who Is Most Responsible for Global Warming?
According to Carbon Brief, the United States is the nation most responsible for the climate crisis, having released 20% of all emissions historically. But it's not just the US to blame: the richest 20 countries in the world are responsible for just under 80% of greenhouse gas emissions overall. This means that most emissions come from a small number of countries, while those least responsible for the climate crisis are experiencing its worst impacts.
Ultimately, the wealthiest are the most responsible, whether it's nations or individuals. As the UN highlights, for example, the combined emissions of the richest 1% of the world's population are larger than the combined emissions of the poorest 50%.
The average billionaire's annual emissions are a million times higher than a person in the poorest 90% of the world’s population, says Oxfam. In fact, the annual emissions of just 125 billionaires (through their investments) are the equivalent of those of France.
What Can We Do to Stop Global Warming?
Global warming is a serious problem that gets worse the longer we delay action. To effectively address global warming and climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions urgently and on a large scale and invest in a global shift to clean energy.
And while personal actions are important, effective policies and international cooperation are vital in addressing the root causes and effects of global warming. It is crucial that we limit carbon pollution and swiftly transition from fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy. Setting goals for the distant future won't help if we don't take immediate action.
If we fail to reduce our emissions, scientists predict that global warming and climate change could result in the deaths of more than 250,000 people worldwide each year, spark mass migration and displacement, and push up to 130 million people into poverty over the next 10 years.
You can raise your voice right now to urge world and business leaders to urgently step up and tackle global warming and climate change by joining our Power Our Planet campaign. By taking action, you can call on world leaders, business leaders, the world's multilateral development banks, philanthropists, and more, to urgently deliver the financing and policy changes needed to combat climate change, and ensure the countries most vulnerable to climate change can access the financing solutions they need. Find out more here about the Power Our Planet campaign and how you can get involved.