Climate change impacts people by affecting agricultural production, water supplies, sanitation and levels of nutrition and health. These are all severe consequences for countries with a growing population.
The health of millions could be at risk because of climate change. Clean water supplies will be under pressure because warming temperatures increase water pollution from bacterial growth leading to a rise in diarrhoeal diseases. Limited access to clean water could lead to malnutrition, dehydration and inadequate sanitation. People could suffer from water shortages since climate change is expected to alter the seasonal flows in regions fed by melt water from mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas. While melting glaciers are likely to increase flood risk during the rainy seasons, they will strongly reduce dry-season water supplies to one sixth of the world’s population.
In addition, as precipitation patterns change with prolonged dry seasons, crop productivity is predicted to decrease, exposing people to starvation and diminishing water supplies for drinking and hygiene.
This is particularly devastating for developing countries where 98 per cent of the world’s poor live. Although hurricanes and floods are already happening, they will rise in frequency and intensity along with other extreme weather events because of climate change, increasing the likelihood of destroying homes, roads and farmland.
In less visible and immediate ways, it could also affect the way of life for all of us – whether our food and drink, use of energy, travel, leisure, shopping, investments or jobs – as can be seen in some of the following sections.
Young people in developing countries are likely to feel the impact of climate change on their lifestyles and livelihoods more quickly and directly than young people in developed countries. Most young people in Africa live in rural areas, where agriculture, which is extremely vulnerable to climate-related damage, accounts for 65 per cent of total employment. In the short term, agricultural production is threatened by more soil degradation and erosion, crop damage, and reduced harvests resulting from extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves, severe storms, and floods. Because of these threats, many young people are migrating to cities and other countries. It is their way of adapting. Climate change may also cause conflicts due to resource scarcity, which could affect the lives of many young people in the long term.
Many young people in developed countries work in the service sector, like tourism, where there are likely to be long-term impacts such as the skiing season being shorter in Europe because of melting glaciers, and tourists may be less attracted to coastal environments.
Young people who still live a traditional lifestyle with their families, based on local resources and culture, are likely to be the most affected because their livelihood is directly dependent on their natural environment. They can see climate change directly changing their lands and homes. As with youth in developing countries, climate change is therefore not only an environmental but also a human rights issue for them, as they are forced to change their lifestyle, livelihood, culture and worldview.
Girls and young women
Girls and young women in developing countries are especially vulnerable to climate change. Drought and floods caused by climate change can create more work for them and take more of their time for finding and fetching water or growing crops, as they collect water, fuel and firewood and often grow food for their families. As a result, many of them miss out on education, which means fewer opportunities for them to have better living conditions and become actors of sustainable development. Nonetheless, many girls and young women are working hard to escape from these conditions by becoming agents for change and finding ways to adapt to climate change in their daily lives and build stronger communities.
Small island developing states (SIDS) are among the lowest GHG emitters but they are likely to be the most affected. As low-lying islands with limited land and freshwater, they are likely to be severely affected by sea level rise and more extreme weather events.
So, settlements, critical infrastructure, economic activities, such as tourism, and ecosystems are at risk. Unsustainable human activities such as sand mining and extensive coastal developments already represent a problem for many island states and increase their vulnerability to climate change impacts.