Effects of global warming on humans
Climate change has brought about possibly permanent alterations to Earth's geological, biological and ecological systems. These changes have led to the emergence of large-scale environmental hazards to human health, such as extreme weather, ozone depletion, increased danger of wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases. In addition, climatic changes are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.
To date, a neglected aspect of the climate change debate, much less research has been conducted on the impacts of climate change on health, food supply, economic growth, migration, security, societal change, and public goods, such as drinking water, than on the geophysical changes related to global warming. Human impacts can be both negative and positive. Climatic changes in Siberia, for instance, are expected to improve food production and local economic activity, at least in the short to medium term. Whereas, Bangladesh has experienced an increase in climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, dengue, childhood diarrhoea, and pneumonia, among vulnerable communities. Numerous studies suggest, however, that the current and future impacts of climate change on human society are and will continue to be overwhelmingly negative.
The majority of the adverse effects of climate change are experienced by poor and low-income communities around the world, who have much higher levels of vulnerability to environmental determinants of health, wealth and other factors, and much lower levels of capacity available for coping with environmental change. A report on the global human impact of climate change published by the Global Humanitarian Forum in 2009, estimated more than 300,000 deaths and about $125 billion in economic losses each year, and indicating that most climate change induced mortality is due to worsening floods and droughts in developing countries.
Most of the key vulnerabilities to climate change are related to climate phenomena that exceed thresholds for adaptation; such as extreme weather events or abrupt climate change, as well as limited access to resources (financial, technical, human, institutional) to cope. In 2007, the IPCC published a report of key vulnerabilities of industry, settlements, and society to climate change. This assessment included a level of confidence for each key vulnerability:
- Very high confidence: Interactions between climate change and urbanization: this is most notable in developing countries, where urbanization is often focused in vulnerable coastal areas.
- High confidence:
- Interactions between climate change and global economic growth: Stresses due to climate change are not only linked to the impacts of climate change, but also to the impacts of climate change policies. For example, these policies might affect development paths by requiring high cost fuel choices.
- Fixed physical infrastructures that are important in meeting human needs: These include infrastructures that are susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or sea level rise, and infrastructures that are already close to being inadequate.
- Medium confidence: Interactions with governmental and social cultural structures that already face other pressures, e.g., limited economic resources.
Climate change poses a wide range of risks to population health – risks that will increase in future decades, often to critical levels, if global climate change continues on its current trajectory. The three main categories of health risks include: (i) direct-acting effects (e.g. due to heat waves, amplified air pollution, and physical weather disasters), (ii) impacts mediated via climate-related changes in ecological systems and relationships (e.g. crop yields, mosquito ecology, marine productivity), and (iii) the more diffuse (indirect) consequences relating to impoverishment, displacement, resource conflicts (e.g. water), and post-disaster mental health problems.
Climate change thus threatens to slow, halt or reverse international progress towards reducing child under-nutrition, deaths from diarrheal diseases and the spread of other infectious diseases. Climate change acts predominantly by exacerbating the existing, often enormous, health problems, especially in the poorer parts of the world. Current variations in weather conditions already have many adverse impacts on the health of poor people in developing nations, and these too are likely to be 'multiplied' by the added stresses of climate change.
A changing climate thus affects the prerequisites of population health: clean air and water, sufficient food, natural constraints on infectious disease agents, and the adequacy and security of shelter. A warmer and more variable climate leads to higher levels of some air pollutants. It increases the rates and ranges of transmission of infectious diseases through unclean water and contaminated food, and by affecting vector organisms (such as mosquitoes) and intermediate or reservoir host species that harbour the infectious agent (such as cattle, bats and rodents). Changes in temperature, rainfall and seasonality compromise agricultural production in many regions, including some of the least developed countries, thus jeopardising child health and growth and the overall health and functional capacity of adults. As warming proceeds, the severity (and perhaps frequency) of weather-related disasters will increase – and appears to have done so in a number of regions of the world over the past several decades. Therefore, in summary, global warming, together with resultant changes in food and water supplies, can indirectly cause increases in a range of adverse health outcomes, including malnutrition, diarrhea, injuries, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and water-borne and insect-transmitted diseases.
Health equity and climate change have a major impact on human health and quality of life, and are interlinked in a number of ways. The report of the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health points out that disadvantaged communities are likely to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change because of their increased exposure and vulnerability to health threats. Over 90 percent of malaria and diarrhea deaths are borne by children aged 5 years or younger, mostly in developing countries. Other severely affected population groups include women, the elderly and people living in small island developing states and other coastal regions, mega-cities or mountainous areas.
A 2011 article in the American Psychologist identified three classes of psychological impacts from global climate change:
- Direct - "Acute or traumatic effects of extreme weather events and a changed environment"
- Indirect - "Threats to emotional well-being based on observation of impacts and concern or uncertainty about future risks"
- Psychosocial – "Chronic social and community effects of heat, drought, migrations, and climate-related conflicts, and postdisaster adjustment." A psychological impact is shown through peoples' behaviours and how they act towards the actual situation. The topic of climate change is very complex and difficult for people to understand, which effects how they act upon it. Ranney and Clark (2016) have shown that informing people about climate science promotes the change in behaviour towards mitigation of climate change.
Extreme weather events
This trend towards more variability and fluctuation is perhaps more important, in terms of its impact on human health, than that of a gradual and long-term trend towards higher average temperature. Infectious disease often accompanies extreme weather events, such as floods, earthquakes and drought. These local epidemics occur due to loss of infrastructure, such as hospitals and sanitation services, but also because of changes in local ecology and environment.
Climate change may lead to dramatic increases in prevalence of a variety of infectious diseases. Beginning in the mid-'70s, there has been an "emergence, resurgence and redistribution of infectious diseases". Reasons for this are likely multi-causal, dependent on a variety of social, environmental and climatic factors, however, many argue that the "volatility of infectious disease may be one of the earliest biological expressions of climate instability". Though many infectious diseases are affected by changes in climate, vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever and leishmaniasis, present the strongest causal relationship. One major reason that change in climate increases the prevalence of vector borne disease is that temperature and rainfall play a key role in the distribution, magnitude, and viral capacity of mosquitoes, who are primary vectors for many vector borne diseases. Observation and research detect a shift of pests and pathogens in the distribution away from the equator and towards Earth's poles. A tool that has been used to predict this distribution trend is the Dynamic Mosquito Simulation Process (DyMSiM). DyMSiM uses epidemiological and entomological data and practices to model future mosquito distributions based upon climate conditions and mosquitos living in the area. This modeling technique helps identify the distribution of specific species of mosquito, some of which are more susceptible to viral infection than others.
Increased precipitation like rain could increase the number of mosquitos indirectly by expanding larval habitat and food supply. Malaria kills approximately 300,000 children (under age 5) annually, poses an imminent threat through temperature increase . Models suggest, conservatively, that risk of malaria will increase 5-15% by 2100 due to climate change. In Africa alone, according to the MARA Project (Mapping Malaria Risk in Africa), there is a projected increase of 16–28% in person-month exposures to malaria by 2100.
There are 4 distinct viruses responsible for Dengue: DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3, and DENV-4. Dengue fever is spread by the bite of the female mosquito known as Aedes aegypti. This species of mosquito can travel up to 400 meters in search of water to lay their eggs, but often remain closer to human habitation. A mosquito becomes infected with dengue when it bites and takes the blood of an infected human. After approximately one week, the mosquito can then transmit the dengue infection to other humans through her bite. While dengue cannot be spread from person to person, an infected person can infect more mosquitos, thus, furthering the spread of the disease. Overall, the female mosquito is a highly effective vector of this disease.
When bitten by an infected mosquito, dengue has an incubation period of 4–10 days. Once infected with the dengue virus, humans experience severe flu-like symptoms. Also known as "break-bone fever", dengue can affect infants, children, and adults and can be fatal. Those infected exhibit a high fever (40 °C/ 104 °F) along with at least two of the following symptoms: severe headache, pain behind the eye, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands, muscle and joint pains, and rash. These symptoms usually last 2–7 days. Dengue can become fatal due to plasma leaking, fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding, or organ impairment. Warning signs of this include a decrease in temperature decrease (below 38 °C/ 100 °F) in conjunction with: severe abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, bleeding gums, blood in vomit, and/or fatigue and restlessness.
Where the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, lives and the amount of mosquitos present is strongly influenced by the amount of water-bearing containers or pockets of standstill water in an area, daily temperature and variation in temperature, moisture, and solar radiation. While dengue fever is primarily considered a tropical and subtropical disease, the geographic ranges of the aedes aegypti are expanding. Globalization, trade, travel, demographic trends, and warming temperatures are all attributed to the recent spread to this primary vector of dengue.
Dengue is now ranked as the most important vector-borne viral disease in the world. Today, an estimated 50–100 million dengue fever infections occur annually. In just the past 50 years, transmission has increased drastically with new cases of the disease (incidence) increasing 30-fold. Once localized to a few areas in the tropics, dengue fever is now endemic in over 100 countries in Southeast Asia, the Americas, Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Western Pacific with Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific regions being the most seriously affected. Recently the number of reported cases has continually increased along with dengue spreading to new areas. Explosive outbreaks are also occurring. Moreover, there is the possible threat of outbreak in Europe with local transmission of dengue being reported for the first time in France and Croatia in 2010.
One country that has seen significant impacts from dengue is Bangladesh. Dengue has been endemic in Bangladesh since its first major outbreak in 2000. With its high population, shifting weather patterns, and low and flat geography that is only one meter above sea level, Bangladesh is also one of the world's most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change. Climate change is predicted to increase temperatures and precipitation, both of which affect dengue transmission, as dengue is weather dependent, and most often occurs in wetter and warmer climates. Standing water allows habitats and breeding grounds for the mosquito vector, while warmer temperatures assist in larval development, replication of the virus, and period of infectivity. Studies have found lag effects of, on average, two months between high temperatures and dengue transmission, indicating the time that has lapsed between observed weather changes and new observed dengue cases.
Dhaka is Bangladesh's biggest city, and also the highest risk area in Bangladesh for transmission of dengue, with its topical climate and population of approximately 11.8 million people. The annual average temperature in Dhaka is 25 °C and almost all of the average rainfall occurs during May through September. If higher temperature and increased precipitation continue, we could see temperatures increase and the rainy season extended, leading to an increased transmission period for dengue.
There were 25,059 cases of dengue in Dhaka from 2000 to 2010, with an average of 168 cases a month. While dengue testing is frequently performed in the private health care setting; it is frequently underperformed in the public health care setting, due to lack of testing accessibility. This indicates that there are potentially more cases of dengue than are getting diagnosed or reported.
Dengue incidence has only increased in the last few decades, and is projected to continue to do so with changing climate conditions. There have been prediction models of temperature created to project the effects of global warming on the planet. Based on these, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the mean annual temperature of Southeast Asia will have increased by 3.3 degrees Celsius by 2100, assuming no other changes. Taking this estimate, researchers predict an increase of 16,030 cases in Dhaka, Bangladesh by the year 2100. This represents a 40-times increase in dengue incidence.
Sociodemographic factors include, but are not limited to: patterns of human migration and travel, effectiveness of public health and medical infrastructure in controlling and treating disease, the extent of anti-malarial drug resistance and the underlying health status of the population at hand. Environmental factors include: changes in land-use (e.g. deforestation), expansion of agricultural and water development projects (which tend to increase mosquito breeding habitat), and the overall trend towards urbanization (i.e. increased concentration of human hosts). Patz and Olson argue that these changes in landscape can alter local weather more than long term climate change. For example, the deforestation and cultivation of natural swamps in the African highlands has created conditions favourable for the survival of mosquito larvae, and has, in part, led to the increasing incidence of malaria. The effects of these non-climatic factors complicate things and make a direct causal relationship between climate change and malaria difficult to confirm. It is highly unlikely that climate exerts an isolated effect.
Preparing for the Future
Effective policies which take into consideration predictive climate change models and measures are key to preparing for and managing changes in incidence and reestablishment of diseases. As climate change continues to alter where diseases are prevalent, harmonizing surveillance systems on a multi-national scale will be vital to improve evidence-based disease control and decision making. Implementation of vaccination and other prevention measures as well as increasing community education and awareness and education of the impacts of the disease and other adverse health events among public decision makers will help prepare and combat changes in disease rates and location.
A sustained wet-bulb temperature exceeding 35 °C is a threshold at which the resilience of human systems is no longer able to adequately cool the skin. A study by NOAA from 2013 concluded that heat stress will reduce labor capacity considerably under current emissions scenarios. There is evidence to show that high temperatures can increase mortality rates among fetuses and children. Although the main focus is often on the health impacts and risks of higher temperatures, it should be remembered that they also reduce learning and worker productivity, which can impact a country's economy and development.
Climate change contributes to cold snaps due to disruptions in the polar vortex, which in turn is caused by a decline in Arctic sea ice, and will cause frigid, cold air to spill from the Arctic and into areas of the northern hemisphere that usually don't experience such cold temperatures, such as the North American southeast, mid-west, northeast, and parts of Europe. This is a predicted short-term effect of climate change in the winter. This brings along extreme cold temperatures for a short period of time, and results in large scale disruption to human life. A statistic from data on the winter season of 2013-14 found that of the most notable of the winter storms - most of which were caused by the disruption of the polar vortex - caused $263 million in damage, 32 fatalities, and 9 injuries. Furthermore, infrastructure damage in the form of closed roads, schools, airports, and other civil functions occurred throughout the northeast, and in some parts of the Midwestern and Southeastern United States. A commercial airliner skidded off the runway and into a nearby snowbank at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York during the 2014 cold snap. The winter season of 2013-2014 also caused some crop damage as shown in Ohio losing 97% of their grape harvest. Further harvests in the following years were also affected as freeze damage reached deep into the trunks of some plants killing off the plant. The total damages extended to roughly $4 million, impacting Ohio's economy and wine production. Cold Events are expected to increase in the short term while in the long term the increasing global temperature is going to give way to more heat related events.
The freshwater resources that humans rely on are highly sensitive to variations in weather and climate. In 2007, the IPCC reported with high confidence that climate change has a net negative impact on water resources and freshwater ecosystems in all regions. The IPCC also found with very high confidence that arid and semi-arid areas are particularly exposed to freshwater impacts.
As the climate warms, it changes the nature of global rainfall, evaporation, snow, stream flow and other factors that affect water supply and quality. Specific impacts include:
- Warmer water temperatures affect water quality and accelerate water pollution.
- Sea level rise is projected to increase salt-water intrusion into groundwater in some regions. This reduces the amount of freshwater available for drinking and farming.
- In some areas, shrinking glaciers and snow deposits threaten the water supply. Areas that depend on melted water runoff will likely see that runoff depleted, with less flow in the late summer and spring peaks occurring earlier. This can affect the ability to irrigate crops. (This situation is particularly acute for irrigation in South America, for irrigation and drinking supplies in Central Asia, and for hydropower in Norway, the Alps, and the Pacific Northwest of North America.)
- 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.
- Increased evaporation will reduce the effectiveness of reservoirs.
- At the same time, human demand for water will grow for the purposes of cooling and hydration.
- Increased precipitation can lead to changes in water-borne and vector-borne diseases.
Displacement and migration
Climate change causes displacement of people in several ways, the most obvious—and dramatic—being through the increased number and severity of weather-related disasters which destroy homes and habitats causing people to seek shelter or livelihoods elsewhere. Effects of climate change such as desertification and rising sea levels gradually erode livelihood and force communities to abandon traditional homelands for more accommodating environments. This is currently happening in areas of Africa's Sahel, the semi-arid belt that spans the continent just below its northern deserts. Deteriorating environments triggered by climate change can also lead to increased conflict over resources which in turn can displace people.
The IPCC has estimated that 150 million environmental migrants will exist by the year 2050, due mainly to the effects of coastal flooding, shoreline erosion and agricultural disruption. However, the IPCC also cautions that it is extremely difficult to measure the extent of environmental migration due to the complexity of the issue and a lack of data.
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, more than 42 million people were displaced in Asia and the Pacific during 2010 and 2011, more than twice the population of Sri Lanka. This figure includes those displaced by storms, floods, and heat and cold waves. Still others were displaced by drought and sea-level rise. Most of those compelled to leave their homes eventually returned when conditions improved, but an undetermined number became migrants, usually within their country, but also across national borders.
Asia and the Pacific is the global area most prone to natural disasters, both in terms of the absolute number of disasters and of populations affected. It is highly exposed to climate impacts, and is home to highly vulnerable population groups, who are disproportionately poor and marginalized. A recent Asian Development Bank report highlights "environmental hot spots" that are particular risk of flooding, cyclones, typhoons, and water stress.
Some Pacific Ocean island nations, such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Maldives, are considering the eventual possibility of evacuation, as flood defense may become economically unrealistic. Tuvalu already has an ad hoc agreement with New Zealand to allow phased relocation. However, for some islanders relocation is not an option. They are not willing to leave their homes, land and families. Some simply don't know the threat that climate change has on their island and this is mainly down to the lack of awareness that climate change even exists. In Vutia on Viti Levu, Fiji's main island, half the respondents to a survey had not heard of climate change (Lata and Nuun 2012). Even where there is awareness many believe that it is a problem caused by developed countries and should therefore be solved by developed countries.
Governments have considered various approaches to reduce migration compelled by environmental conditions in at-risk communities, including programs of social protection, livelihoods development, basic urban infrastructure development, and disaster risk management. Some experts even support migration as an appropriate way for people to cope with environmental changes. However, this is controversial because migrants – particularly low-skilled ones – are among the most vulnerable people in society and are often denied basic protections and access to services.
Climate change is only one factor that may contribute to a household's decision to migrate; other factors may include poverty, population growth or employment options. For this reason, it is difficult to classify environmental migrants as actual "refugees" as legally defined by the UNHCR. Neither the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change nor its Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement on climate change, includes any provisions concerning specific assistance or protection for those who will be directly affected by climate change.
In small islands and megadeltas, inundation as a result of sea level rise is expected to threaten vital infrastructure and human settlements. This could lead to issues of statelessness for populations in countries such as the Maldives and Tuvalu and homelessness in countries with low-lying areas such as Bangladesh.
Climate change has the potential to exacerbate existing tensions or create new ones — serving as a threat multiplier. It can be a catalyst for violent conflict and a threat to international security. A meta-analysis of over 50 quantitative studies that examine the link between climate and conflict found that "for each 1 standard deviation (1σ) change in climate toward warmer temperatures or more extreme rainfall, median estimates indicate that the frequency of interpersonal violence rises 4% and the frequency of intergroup conflict rises 14%." The IPCC has suggested that the disruption of environmental migration may serve to exacerbate conflicts, though they are less confident of the role of increased resource scarcity. Of course, climate change does not always lead to violence, and conflicts are often caused by multiple interconnected factors.
A variety of experts have warned that climate change may lead to increased conflict. The Military Advisory Board, a panel of retired U.S. generals and admirals, predicted that global warming will serve as a "threat multiplier" in already volatile regions. The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, two Washington think tanks, have reported that flooding "has the potential to challenge regional and even national identities," leading to "armed conflict over resources." They indicate that the greatest threat would come from "large-scale migrations of people — both inside nations and across existing national borders." However, other researchers have been more skeptical: One study found no statistically meaningful relationship between climate and conflict using data from Europe between the years 1000 and 2000.
The link between climate change and security is a concern for authorities across the world, including United Nations Security Council and the G77 group of developing nations. Climate change's impact as a security threat is expected to hit developing nations particularly hard. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has argued that "An unstable climate will exacerbate some of the core drivers of conflict, such as migratory pressures and competition for resources." The links between the human impact of climate change and the threat of violence and armed conflict are particularly important because multiple destabilizing conditions are affected simultaneously.
Experts have suggested links to climate change in several major conflicts:
- War in Darfur, where sustained drought encouraged conflict between herders and farmers
- Syrian Civil War, preceded by the displacement of 1.5 million people due to drought-induced crop and livestock failure
- Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, which exploited natural resource shortages to fuel anti-government sentiment
- Somali Civil War, in which droughts and extreme high temperatures have been linked to violence
- Herder–farmer conflicts in Nigeria, Mali, South Sudan and other countries in the Sahel region are exacerbated by climate change.
- Northern Mali conflict, in which droughts and extreme high temperatures have been linked to violence
Additionally, researchers studying ancient climate patterns (paleoclimatology) have shown that long-term fluctuations of war frequency and population changes have followed cycles of temperature change since the preindustrial era. A 2016 study finds that "drought can contribute to sustaining conflict, especially for agriculturally dependent groups and politically excluded groups in very poor countries. These results suggest a reciprocal nature–society interaction in which violent conflict and environmental shock constitute a vicious circle, each phenomenon increasing the group’s vulnerability to the other."
The consequences of climate change and poverty are not distributed uniformly within communities. Individual and social factors such as gender, age, education, ethnicity, geography and language lead to differential vulnerability and capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. Climate change effects such as hunger, poverty and diseases like diarrhea and malaria, disproportionately impact children; about 90 percent of malaria and diarrhea deaths are among young children. Children are also 14–44 percent more likely to die from environmental factors, again leaving them the most vulnerable. Those in urban areas will be affected by lower air quality and overcrowding, and will struggle the most to better their situation.
Social effects of extreme weather
As the World Meteorological Organization explains, "recent increase in societal impact from tropical cyclones has largely been caused by rising concentrations of population and infrastructure in coastal regions." Pielke et al. (2008) normalized mainland U.S. hurricane damage from 1900 to 2005 to 2005 values and found no remaining trend of increasing absolute damage. The 1970s and 1980s were notable because of the extremely low amounts of damage compared to other decades. The decade 1996–2005 has the second most damage among the past 11 decades, with only the decade 1926–1935 surpassing its costs. The most damaging single storm is the 1926 Miami hurricane, with $157 billion of normalized damage.
The American Insurance Journal predicted that "catastrophe losses should be expected to double roughly every 10 years because of increases in construction costs, increases in the number of structures and changes in their characteristics." 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 effects of climate change, for example through more resilient buildings and improved flood defences, could also result in considerable cost-savings in the longterm.
A major challenge for human settlements is sea level rise, indicated by ongoing observation and research of rapid declines in ice-mass balance from both Greenland and Antarctica. Estimates for 2100 are at least twice as large as previously estimated by IPCC AR4, with an upper limit of about two meters. Depending on regional changes, increased precipitation patterns can cause more flooding or extended drought stresses water resources.
Coasts and low-lying areas
For historical reasons to do with trade, many of the world's largest and most prosperous cities are on the coast. In developing countries, the poorest often live on floodplains, 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.
In a journal paper, Nicholls and Tol (2006) considered the effects of sea level rise:
The most vulnerable future worlds to sea-level rise appear to be the A2 and B2 [IPCC] scenarios, which primarily reflects differences in the socio-economic situation (coastal population, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP/capita), rather than the magnitude of sea-level rise. Small islands and deltaic settings stand out as being more vulnerable as shown in many earlier analyses. Collectively, these results suggest that human societies will have more choice in how they respond to sea-level rise than is often assumed. However, this conclusion needs to be tempered by recognition that we still do not understand these choices and significant impacts remain possible.
- Coastal and low-lying areas would be exposed to increasing risks including coastal erosion due to climate change and sea level rise.
- By the 2080s, millions of people would experience floods every year due to sea level rise. The numbers affected were projected to be largest in the densely populated and low-lying mega-deltas of Asia and Africa; and smaller islands were judged to be especially vulnerable.
A study in the April 2007 issue of Environment and Urbanization reports that 634 million people live in coastal areas within 30 feet (9.1 m) of sea level. The study also reported that about two thirds of the world's cities with over five million people are located in these low-lying coastal areas.
Projections for cities in 2050
In 2019 the Crowther Lab from ETH Zürich paired the climatic conditions of 520 major cities worldwide with the predicted climatic conditions of cities in 2050. 22% of the major cities are predicted to have climatic conditions that do not exist in any city today. 2050 London will have a climate similar to 2019 Melbourne, Athens and Madrid like Fez, Morocco, Nairobi like Maputo. New York will have a climate similar to Virginia Beach today, Virginia Beach like Podgorica, Montenegro. 2050 Seattle will be like 2019 San Francisco, Toronto like Washington D.C., Washington D.C. like Nashville. Berlin and Paris like Canberra, Australia. Canberra and Vienna will be like Skopje. The Indian city Pune will be like Bamako in Mali, Bamako will be like Niamey in Niger. Brasilia will be like Goiania.
Climate Change increases the risk of wildfires that can be caused by power lines. In 2019, after "red flag" warning about the possibility of wildfires was declared in some areas of California, the electricity company "Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)" begun to shut down power, for preventing inflammation of trees that touch the electricity lines. Millions can be impacted. The climatic conditions that cause this warning, became more frequent because of climate change. If the temperatures keep rising, such power outage could become common
Oil, coal and natural gas
Oil and natural gas infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the increased risk of disasters such as storm, cyclones, flooding and long-term increases in sea level. Minimising these risks by building in less disaster prone areas, can be expensive and impossible in countries with coastal locations or island states. All thermal power stations depend on water to cool them. Not only is there increased demand for fresh water, but climate change can increase the likelihood of drought and fresh water shortages. Another impact for thermal power plants, is that increasing the temperatures in which they operate reduces their efficiency and hence their output. The source of oil often comes from areas prone to high natural disaster risks; such as tropical storms, hurricanes, cyclones, and floods. An example is Hurricane Katrina's impact on oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, as it destroyed 126 oil and gas platforms and damaged 183 more.
However, previously pristine arctic areas will now be available for resource extraction.
Climate change, along with extreme weather and natural disasters can affect nuclear power plants in a similar way to those using oil, coal, and natural gas. However, the impact of water shortages on nuclear power plants cooled by rivers will be greater than on other thermal power plants. This is because old reactor designs with water-cooled cores must run at lower internal temperatures and thus, paradoxically, must dump more heat to the environment to produce a given amount of electricity. This situation has forced some nuclear reactors to be shut down and will do so again unless the cooling systems of these plants are enhanced to provide more capacity. Nuclear power supply was diminished by low river flow rates and droughts, which meant rivers had reached the maximum temperatures for cooling. Such shutdowns happened in France during the 2003 and 2006 heat waves. During the heat waves, 17 reactors had to limit output or shut down. 77% of French electricity is produced by nuclear power; and in 2009 a similar situation created a 8GW shortage, and forced the French government to import electricity. Other cases have been reported from Germany, where extreme temperatures have reduced nuclear power production 9 times due to high temperatures between 1979 and 2007. In particular:
- The Unterweser nuclear power plant reduced output by 90% between June and September 2003.
- The Isar nuclear power plant cut production by 60% for 14 days due to excess river temperatures and low stream flow in the river Isar in 2006.
Similar events have happened elsewhere in Europe during those same hot summers. Many scientists agree that if global warming continues, this disruption is likely to increase.
Changes in the amount of river flow will correlate with the amount of energy produced by a dam. Lower river flows because of drought, climate change, or upstream dams and diversions, will reduce the amount of live storage in a reservoir; therefore reducing the amount of water that can be used for hydroelectricity. The result of diminished river flow can be a power shortage in areas that depend heavily on hydroelectric power. The risk of flow shortage may increase as a result of climate change. Studies from the Colorado River in the United States suggests that modest climate changes (such as a 2 degree change in Celsius that could result in a 10% decline in precipitation), might reduce river run-off by up to 40%. Brazil in particular, is vulnerable due to its having reliance on hydroelectricity as increasing temperatures, lower water flow, and alterations in the rainfall regime, could reduce total energy production by 7% annually by the end of the century.
An industry directly affected by the risks of climate change is the insurance industry. 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." The report noted that weather-related risks for households and property were already increasing by 2–4% per year due to the changing weather conditions, and claims for storm and flood damages in the UK had doubled to over £6 billion over the period from 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 those in the lower income brackets.
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 150 billion US$ each year in the next decade." These costs would burden customers, taxpayers, and the insurance industry, with increased costs related to insurance and disaster relief.
In the United States, insurance losses have also greatly increased. It has been shown that a 1% climb in annual precipitation can increase 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.
In March 2019, Munich Re noted that climate change could cause home insurance to become unaffordable for households at or below average incomes.
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.
America's Climate Choices. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. 2011. p. 15. doi:10.17226/12781. ISBN 978-0-309-14585-5.
The average temperature of the Earth’s surface increased by about 1.4 °F (0.8 °C) over the past 100 years, with about 1.0 °F (0.6 °C) of this warming occurring over just the past three decades
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