Impacts of Climate Change on People

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

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.

Indigenous youth

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.




Climate Change Effects

The effects of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale, with some of them already being observed. They include more frequent and extreme weather patterns, changes in plant growth affecting agriculture and food production, loss of plant and animal species unable to adapt or migrate to changing conditions, changes in the spread of infectious diseases in terms of the rate and the expansion of ranges, changes in the flow of ocean currents, and changes in seasons.

These effects will have severe impacts on coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more. Climate change is expected to intensify throughout this century with significant implications for people and the planet. So, to avoid the unmanageable and to manage the unavoidable, there is an urgent need to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and economies with lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Effects on the planet

The observed 0.74°C temperature increase (1906-2005) has already strong impacts on our natural environment. These changes are affecting the whole world, from low-lying islands to the polar regions. Local effects can be very different in different parts of the world, and these affect natural systems in different ways.

For example, today, 25 per cent of GHG emissions due to human activities are absorbed by oceans that function as carbon sinks. When CO2 is absorbed by seawater, chemical changes occur in sea water, reducing both its pH and the concentration of carbonate ions, a process known as ocean acidification. This phenomenon affects corals, causing their bleaching and it could lead to the degradation of entire marine ecosystems that depend on them.


Changing conditions have consequences on ecosystems such as coral reefs, rainforests, glaciers, wetlands and oceans. A 1-2°C increase in global temperature poses major risks to many unique and threatened systems, including biodiversity hotspots – the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life on Earth. Scientists predict that 20 to 30 per cent of species are at risk of extinction if global average warming exceeds 1.5-2.5°C. This is because, as temperatures rise, environments change too quickly for the species to either adapt or migrate to somewhere more suitable for them.

Small, slow changes in a natural system can quickly become big, quick changes when they reach a tipping point. Tipping points are critical thresholds, beyond which natural systems are not able to recover from further disturbance. Major climate system tipping elements include Arctic sea-ice loss, melting of Greenland ice sheet, dieback of the Amazon rainforest and Sahara greening.


These are explanations or statements about climate change, focusing on different perspectives.

1. Friends of the Earth, Shout about climate solutions together

Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases help keep the Earth warm, like a blanket. We release CO2 when we burn fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – to get energy. But now we’ve released so much CO2 that the blanket has thickened, trapping more and more heat and causing the climate to change. Climate change threatens the future of humans and the environment on which we all depend. Most scientists agree that we need to make big cuts in the CO2 we release – at least 80 per cent by 2050 – if we’re going stop climate change becoming really dangerous. So, where do we start?

2. World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

We know some people find the whole issue of climate change confusing. Some people still debate whether it’s really happening, and its causes. Over the past 150 years, the world’s industrialised nations have upset the delicate balance of the carbon cycle, the natural processes that emit and absorb carbon gases across the globe, keeping overall levels stable, and our climate suitable for plenty of life. This is due to burning huge amounts of fossil

fuels (concentrated carbon, like coal, oil, gas), as well as breeding huge numbers of methane-producing livestock, and cutting down the forests that naturally absorb CO2 from the air. The extra carbon in the atmosphere has been raising global temperatures. As the planet heats, climate patterns change, with more extreme and unpredicted weather across the world – some places will be hotter, some colder, some wetter, others drier. We know the planet has warmed by an average of nearly 1oC in the past century. Might not sound much, but small rises can create big problems for people and wildlife.

3. Act on CO2 – UK government

The scientific community agrees – climate change is happening and human activity is the cause. In the last 100 years the Earth has warmed by 0.74°C (and by 0.4°C since the 1970s), meaning that sea levels have gone up, glaciers and sea ice has melted, floods and droughts are on the increase, and heatwaves are worse. We will have further unavoidable climate change from the past rise in temperature, including further sea level rises for centuries to come.

4. Oxfam

Climate change is probably the most important issue that will affect the world in the lifetime of our pupils. Overwhelming scientific evidence supports the conclusion that changes in the global climate are mostly due to human activities and fossil fuel consumption patterns. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC – an independent, scientific advisory body) state that unrestrained greenhouse gas emissions could increase global temperatures up by 6°C by 2100, causing raised sea levels, species destruction, economic collapse in tropical areas and mass human migrations. However, the IPCC stated that if governments, businesses and consumers act now, it will be possible to limit the expected temperature rise to 2°C. We all contribute to climate change in countless ways in our daily lives, but some of us do more than others – a lot more.

5. Pitara Kids Network

Our earth is an ideal place for life to grow. It is covered by a layer of air – our atmosphere – which is important for all living things. The atmosphere gives us oxygen to breathe, acts like a blanket to keep us warm and protects us from deadly radiation from the Sun and flying meteors from outer space.

The temperature of the earth is regulated by the atmosphere by keeping the Sun’s heat from escaping back into the cold space at night. This is called the Greenhouse Effect and you may have experienced it if you have been to a plant nursery where it can be quite warm even if it is chilly outside.

Every time we breathe or burn something we convert oxygen in the air to carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is used by plants to breathe and is changed back to oxygen creating a balanced cycle. The total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is quite small. If we increase our carbon burning – for example by burning a lot of coal or oil to generate electricity or run our cars – and cut down trees, we increase the amount of CO2 in the air. This makes the air a little heavier and it starts acting like a thicker blanket around our earth, warming it up. The actual amount of warming is only a few degrees but it is enough to disrupt the fragile balance of nature – melt the polar ice, raise sea levels, cause violent hurricanes and endanger species such as the polar bears.

6. International Climate Challenge

The term ‘climate change’ refers to the long-term and widespread change in the Earth’s weather patterns brought about by humanity’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

The Earth’s climate has always undergone change through natural processes, but the climate change observed today is 100 times greater than anything that has occurred before and is, without doubt, man made. The most

simple and commonly used indicator of climate change is the increase in global average temperature over time – therefore climate change is often referred to as global warming. However, not all regions are experiencing simply warmer weather – climate change is bringing more rainfall or drought to some, and more storms to others.

The global average temperature has increased by 0.74°C over the last 100 years and scientists predict the Earth’s average temperature is likely to rise between 1.1 and 6.4°C above 1990 levels by the end of this century depending on our emissions. This will result in a further rise in global sea levels of between 20 and 60cm by the end of this century, continued melting of ice caps, glaciers and sea ice, changes in rainfall patterns and intensification of tropical cyclones.


Learning Resources: Make the Link CLIMATE EXCHANGE

Explanations of Climate Change

What is going on with temperatures?

Global temperatures

Warming of the climate is certain. Air and ocean temperatures are increasing, snow and ice is melting, and the sea level is rising. There are many examples that illustrate the striking changes that are already taking place because of climate change.

The expansion of water as it warms, the melting of glaciers, ice caps and the polar ice sheets and the runoff water from terrestrial reservoirs are all contributing to sea level rise. The Arctic Ocean, for example, had the least ice of any year on record in 2007, followed by 2008 and 2009. The likelihood of certain weather events is also increasing. Between 1900 and 2005, rainfall has increased significantly in the Americas, northern Europe and parts of Asia, but decreased in southern Africa and southern Asia.

In Numbers

Warning signs

According to major climate research centres around the world, the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998.

Sea levels have risen in a way consistent with the warming – since 1961 at an average of 1.8 millimetres per year, and since 1993 at 3.1 millimetres per year.

(UN Global Environmental Alert Service, April 2011)

What is the difference between Climate and Weather?

Climate and weather have one difference. Weather measures the conditions of the atmosphere, through temperature, humidity, wind and precipitation, over a short period of time (day, week and month). Climate is the average weather for a particular region and time period, usually taken over 30 years. The climate system is very complex and studying it does not only mean looking at what is going on in the atmosphere but also in the ground, oceans, glaciers and so forth.

YouthXchange-Climate change and lifestyles UNESCO 

Climate and weather