Global climate change is not a future problem. Changes to Earth’s climate driven by increased human emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are already having widespread effects on the environment: glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking, river and lake ice is breaking up earlier, plant and animal geographic ranges are shifting, and plants and trees are blooming sooner.
Effects that scientists had long predicted would result from global climate change are now occurring, such as sea ice loss, accelerated sea level rise, and longer, more intense heat waves.
"The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming." - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Some changes (such as droughts, wildfires, and extreme rainfall) are happening faster than scientists previously assessed. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the United Nations body established to assess the science related to climate change — modern humans have never before seen the observed changes in our global climate, and some of these changes are irreversible over the next hundreds to thousands of years.
Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for many decades, mainly due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities.
A Degree of DifferenceSo, the Earth's average temperature has increased about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the 20th century. What's the big deal?
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment report, published in 2021, found that human emissions of heat-trapping gases have already warmed the climate by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since 1850-1900.1 The global average temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5 degrees C (about 3 degrees F) within the next few decades. These changes will affect all regions of Earth.
What’s the difference between climate change and global warming?
The severity of effects caused by climate change will depend on the path of future human activities. More greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more climate extremes and widespread damaging effects across our planet. However, those future effects depend on the total amount of carbon dioxide we emit. So, if we can reduce emissions, we may avoid some of the worst effects.
"The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss the brief, rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future."2