Images of global warming are worth a thousand words. They demonstrate the damage we have already caused to our planet. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed, as warned by the IPCC.1

By far, the largest contributor is energy production, at 72 per cent of all emissions.2 Other major sources are transportation, manufacturing and agriculture, accounting for 15, 12 and 11 per cent respectively.3 A major shift in the way we produce energy, food, materials and vehicles is needed to avoid climate change. Some argue that carbon capture and storage could be the answer.4 Others point to protecting the world’s forests and reducing fossil fuel consumption.5 The following pictures provide a chilling insight into what will happen if we simply do nothing.

Images of what may happen as global warming continues

Drought

Global warming has already caused “multiple observed changes in the climate system”.6 These are anticipated to worsen as the temperature continues to rise. For example, an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts has been recorded in many regions. In 2019, rains failed across eastern Africa, southern Africa and the Horn of Africa.7 45 million people across 14 countries struggled to find food as a result.8 Water scarcity already impacts 40 per cent of the world’s population.9 An estimated 700 million people are at risk of displacement as a result of drought by 2030.10 

Kenya water drought

Water sources in Kenya have dried up meaning some inhabitants need to walk up to 6 hours to the nearest source or well

A mass extinction

Some of the changes wrought by our greenhouse gas emissions will be irreversible.11 The loss of ecosystems, and subsequently the risk of extinction, is a tragic and irrevocable consequence of global warming. It will be particularly cataclysmic if the planet’s temperature increases by 2°C.12 In this case, the proportion of species projected to lose over 50 per cent of their climatically determined geographic range is about 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and 8 per cent of vertebrates.13 There would also be further risks to biodiversity through extreme weather events, the spread of invasive species, pests and disease.14

Whales stranded

150 short-finned pilot whales stranded at Hamelin Bay, a site on Australia’s western coast around 200 miles south of Perth, in 2018

Another calamitous fallout of climate change is the mortality of many ocean species. Our oceans have absorbed about 30 per cent of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions.15 This has led to ocean warming, ocean acidification and carbonate chemistry changes that are unprecedented for at least the last 65 million years.16 All of these are expected to increase as a direct consequence of global warming.17 Ecosystems with limited mobility, such as coral reefs and kelp forests, will likely experience high rates of loss.18 Even if planetary temperatures are constrained to 1.5°C, 70 to 90 per cent of tropical coral reefs will disappear.19 

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef bleaching

Aerial photo showing bleaching of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

The destruction of the Arctic

The Arctic is particularly sensitive to changes in climate. Between 1997 and 2014, the monthly mean ice extent during September decreased by an average of 130,000 km² per year.20 This rate is four times as fast as what was lost during the period from 1979 to 1996.21 With a 1.5°C temperature increase, the Arctic Ocean should maintain a sea ice cover throughout summer in most years.22 However, for 2°C of global warming, the chances of a sea ice-free Arctic in summer are significantly higher.23

Arctic sea ice thickness in the 1950s and predicted for 2050s comparison

Arctic sea ice thickness in the 1950s and predictions for 2050s

As the polar ice caps and glaciers melt, the global mean sea level (GMSL) will rise. The difference in GMSL upsurge in a 1.5°C compared to a 2°C warmer world is about 0.1 metres.24 This has vast implications for small islands and coastal areas across the globe.25 A slower rate of sea level rise offers greater opportunities for adaptation.26 A smaller sea level rise would obviously limit the impact on people and ecosystems.27 Either way, the damage caused by humanity’s burning of fossil fuels has the potential to alter every aspect of our planet forever. 

Global Warming Images

Aerial photo of Tuvalu, a Pacific island chain threatened by rising sea levels

Sources

  1. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  2. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. (2020). Global Emissions. [online] Available at: https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/#:~:text=Globally%2C%20the%20primary%20sources%20of.
  3. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. (2020). Global Emissions. [online] Available at: https://www.c2es.org/content/international-emissions/#:~:text=Globally%2C%20the%20primary%20sources%20of.
  4. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
  5. Milman, O. (2018). Scientists say halting deforestation “just as urgent” as reducing emissions. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/04/climate-change-deforestation-global-warming-report.
  6. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  7. Africa (2019). Drought in Africa leaves 45 million in need across 14 countries. [online] The New Humanitarian. Available at: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2019/06/10/drought-africa-2019-45-million-in-need.
  8. Africa (2019). Drought in Africa leaves 45 million in need across 14 countries. [online] The New Humanitarian. Available at: https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2019/06/10/drought-africa-2019-45-million-in-need.
  9. www.who.int. (n.d.). Drought. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/drought#tab=tab_1.
  10. www.who.int. (n.d.). Drought. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/drought#tab=tab_1.
  11. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  12. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  13. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  14. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  15. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  16. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  17. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  18. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  19. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  20. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  21. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  22. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  23. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  24. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  25. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  26. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  27. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.

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