Population Matters

Climate change

Climate change

Climate change is having an increasingly adverse impact on humanity and other species, and that impact is forecast to grow significantly. The impact is greatest on the poorest communities and those in marginal or coastal locations. In many regions, water and hence food supplies are vulnerable, and greater conflict and migration are foreseeable.

Rising temperatures

The climate has warmed significantly in recent decades. Modern industrial activity is based largely on the burning of fossil fuels that give rise to carbon dioxide emissions. It is generally accepted that this is a major cause of such climate change and that the warming is set to continue.

Crowded street

Every additional person increases carbon emissions — the rich more than the poor — and increases the number of climate change victims, the poor more than the rich.

As the temperature rises, climate and weather patterns are changing and becoming increasingly unpredictable. This has serious consequences as it affects the abundance and distribution of species both in water and on land.

Our dependence

Take, for example, the impact of changing rainfall patterns and shrinking glaciers on water supply. Fresh water is essential for human life; for drinking, sanitation and irrigation. Any interruption to predictable patterns of water supply will have immediate and dire consequences for the populations affected.

The world could have 200 million climate refugees by 2050
The world could have 200 million climate refugees by 2050

Approximately 500 million people have some measure of dependence on tropical coral reef systems for their livelihoods and food security. However, ocean acidification, significantly warmer waters and other human-induced stresses are currently putting these systems at grave risk.

More generally, rising sea levels will affect the large number of people around the world living in low-lying areas and coastal regions. These highly fertile areas will be lost and their populations forced to migrate. Overall, environmental refugees could reach 200 million by 2050 due to climate change related drought, flooding and salination.

We already know that we must change how we live and consume less in order to reduce the threat posed by climate change, particularly those of us in the developed world. Increasing numbers of people will only add to the problems we all face.

Read more about climate change.

Next: Energy & materials