How a changing climate affects us

Climate change will become more pronounced in the future as emissions continue. But exact predictions of how this will affect us are difficult to make. This is because the climate system is very complex and because long-term projections of human activity and emissions are inherently uncertain.

All parts of the climate system – air, land, water, ice and ecosystems – interact together. This means the effects of global warming are many and varied.

In the UK, average sea level is rising by three millimetres per year. Hundreds of plant and animal species are feeling the onset of spring and summer, on average, 11 days earlier than in the 1970s. Winter rainfall is arriving in more intense bursts.

Across the world, human activity is influencing rainfall patterns, Arctic sea ice and  sea level. Scientists have even started to detect an influence on  some recent major heatwaves and floods.

Looking ahead, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2100 the planet will warm by 1.8-7.1°C above pre-industrial levels, at least twice as much (and potentially nine times greater) than has been experienced so far. It also identifies many risks – and some benefits – people and ecosystems would be exposed to if nothing is done as the temperature rises.


Climate change risks as global temperatures rise

(adapted from IPCC WG2 AR4)

risks and benefits adapted from IPCC

These risks are not distributed evenly across the world. Small islands, coral reefs, the tropics, poles and mountains are most vulnerable. But as warming continues all regions will find themselves at risk.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions  will decrease the amount of further warming we are subjected to, and is therefore essential to limit the impacts of climate change. But in the meantime, preparing for change  is essential to help minimise the impacts we cannot avoid.