Climate change already worse than expected, says new UN report (2023)

  • Environment

The effects of warming are already driving people from their homes as seas rise, as well as killing trees and animal species. We can adapt, but also urgently need to make deep and immediate emissions cuts to head off even worse impacts, experts say.

ByKieran Mulvaney

Published February 28, 2022

9 min read

(Video) UN releases dire climate report highlighting rapid environmental degradation

Climate change is causing greater impacts than expected at lower temperatures than anticipated, disrupting natural systems and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, according to the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The new report found that droughts and heat waves are killing off trees and corals; sea level rise is forcing people in vulnerable areas to leave their homes; and extreme conditions may be increasing the likelihood of violent conflict. If warming is not halted soon, and it continues, as many as half the species living on land could become extinct, malnutrition in parts of the world will likely become widespread, and extreme weather events will become increasingly common.

The poor, the very young and very old, ethnic minorities, and Indigenous peoples are at most risk. And while measures to limit the impact of climate change do exist, the only truly meaningful step is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

According to Kelly Levin of the Bezos Earth Fund, a foundation that funds efforts to combat climate change, the report “shows clearly how much we need to change course, because delayed action risks triggering impacts that are so catastrophic that our world slowly becomes unrecognizable.”

The report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, was published on Monday after approval from 195 governments. It runs 3,675 pages. Here are its major findings.

(Video) Climate Change Impact ‘Worse Than We Thought,’ UN’s Guterres Says

Many climate change impacts are worse than thought

To date, greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in a mean global temperature increase just shy of 1.1 degrees Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit). According to Camille Parmesan of the University of Plymouth’s Marine Institute, who was co-author of the report’s 35-page “Summary for Policymakers,” “one of the most striking conclusions of our report is that we’re seeing adverse impacts that are much more widespread and much more negative than expected” at that level of temperature increase.

Of particular concern, she adds, is that this relatively small amount of warming has been enough to begin melting permafrost, drying out peatlands, and damaging forests through insect pest outbreaks and wildfires.

The report also finds that climate change is already impacting agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture, including in North America. “Across North America, climate change has reduced agricultural productivity since 1961,” says Rachel Bezner-Kerr of the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, who was also a co-author of the official summary.

What’s more, scientists can increasingly link extreme weather events directly to climate change. In fact, argues Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and author of The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, current models continue to “underestimate the impact that climate change is already having on persistent weather extremes and underpredict the worsening of these impacts with additional warming.”

The report concludes that increased heat waves, droughts, and floods “are already exceeding plants’ and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage.”

The need for action is urgent

The recognition that climate impacts are already being felt increases the urgency of limiting further warming. On land, up to 14 percent of species will likelyface “very high risk of extinction” at global warming levels of 1.5°C (2.7°F), says the report; that figure increases to as much as 18 percent at 2°C (3.6°F), and all the way up to 48 percent at 5°C (9°F). (If the world’s nations keep their current promises to reduce emissions, a recent analysis found, warming will be kept under 2.5ºC.)

At 2°C or higher of warming, human food security risks due to climate change will be more severe, leading to nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and small island states. Furthermore, as temperatures continue to climb, climate change impacts and risks are likely to become “increasingly complex and more difficult to manage,” with multiple hazards—from droughts and wildfires to sea-level rise and floods—occurring simultaneously.

It is for that reason that the goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit warming to “well below 2 degrees, and preferably 1.5 degrees” of warming. However, even many of the countries committed to 1.5°C are expecting the average global temperature to rise above that level first before dropping, a process known as overshoot. With severe impacts being felt now, such an approach may be dangerous.

(Video) Some climate changes now irreversible, says stark UN report

“Because of all these changes already being put into motion, we are concluding that with overshoot … we have an increased risk of irreversible impacts, such as species extinctions, and also that some of these processes that we’re already seeing take place, will be increasingly difficult to reverse,” says Parmesan.

“I would argue we have to try to limit warming to 1.5°C with as little overshoot as possible, ideally zero overshoot,” says Mann. “But what we need to do is actually pretty straightforward: We need to ramp carbon emissions down as rapidly as possible.”

Climate change affects some more than others

“Climate change affects us all, but it doesn’t affect us all equally,” explains Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “Those already living below the poverty line, the very young and very old, ethnic minorities and Indigenous peoples: these are populations disproportionately affected by climate impacts. And in many cases, they’re also the ones who have done the least to contribute to the problem. That’s why climate change is profoundly unfair.”

The report points out that vulnerability to climate change is higher in locations and among populations that have less resilience to extreme change: for example, those affected by poverty and violent conflict. While there is little evidence so far that climate change directly causes conflict, it may increase the risk of it by exacerbating social, economic, and environmental problems. From 2010 to 2020, human deaths from floods, droughts, and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions, compared to regions with very low vulnerability. Flood and drought-related food insecurity and malnutrition have increased in Africa and Central and South America.

Climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement of populations in some regions; small island states threatened by rising seas are disproportionately affected. The loss of ecosystem services has especially severe effects on those who rely directly on them to meet basic needs, including Indigenous peoples.

We can adapt; nature is key

As temperatures increase, humans need to adapt. One of the report’s key findings, says Parmesan, is that such adaptation “is more reliant on natural ecosystems than we’d seen in prior reports. There is more evidence now of that dependency.”

Flood risk along rivers can be reduced by restoring wetlands and other natural habitats in flood plains, or by returning rivers to their natural courses. Conserving mangroves protects shorelines from storms and erosion. By reducing overfishing, marine protected areas provide resilience against climate change. Cities can be cooled by parks and ponds and by greening streets and rooftops. Farmers can increase both their climate resilience and their yields by improving soil health.

Adaptation that focuses on the maintenance of natural systems also helps avoid “maladaptation,” the report says. Irrigating fields with groundwater can provide immediate relief from drought, for example—but if droughts become more frequent or long-lasting, the water table may ultimately disappear. Similarly, sea walls might protect coastal areas in the short term, but their construction can destroy coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, which themselves contribute to coastal protection.

(Video) Climate change IPCC report is 'code red for humanity', UN scientists say - BBC News

“The worst possible maladaptation,” Mann argues, would be “to put too many marbles in the adaptation bag and not enough in the mitigation bag”—in other words, to adapt to the impacts of climate change without taking adequate steps to eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions that cause it. In a sense, he continues, “the report is a summary of what we already know: Dangerous climate change is now upon us, and it is simply a matter of how bad we’re willing to let it get.”

About the IPCC reports

The report reflects the findings of IPCC’s Working Group II, one of three such groups that publish updated findings approximately every eight years. Chris Field of Stanford University, who was co-chair of the group from 2008 to 2015, explains that it covers a “a broad portfolio” that addresses “how climate change interacts with people, economies, and the environment.”

The report covers 3,675 pages, detailing the impact of climate change on continental and polar regions, terrestrial and marine ecosystems, food, and health. It also explores the intersection of global warming and poverty and examines pathways to development that are as resilient as possible to climate change and its impacts. It is prefaced by a 35-page “Summary for Policymakers” which, says Field, “is painstakingly approved, sentence by sentence, by consensus.”

That process means that IPCC reports are sometimes criticized for being watered down, but Field argues that it gives the report a strength that individual studies cannot match, in that “every country in the world agrees that every sentence in the summary for policymakers is an accurate description of the underlying technical literature.”

Editor's Note: The IPCC's report comprises 3,675 pages.

(Video) UN scientists say it's 'now or never' to limit global warming - BBC News


What is the real answer to climate change? ›

Ending Our Reliance on Fossil Fuels

The single-most important thing that we can do to combat climate change is to drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.

Are we doing today enough to solve climate change? ›

Yes. While we cannot stop global warming overnight, we can slow the rate and limit the amount of global warming by reducing human emissions of heat-trapping gases and soot (“black carbon”).

What is the UN saying about climate change? ›

To limit warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak before 2025. Then they must decline by 43 per cent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.

What is the latest climate change report? ›

UN Climate Change News, 26 October 2022 – A new report from UN Climate Change shows countries are bending the curve of global greenhouse gas emissions downward but underlines that these efforts remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

What is the No 1 cause of climate change? ›

Human activity is the main cause of climate change. People burn fossil fuels and convert land from forests to agriculture. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have burned more and more fossil fuels and changed vast areas of land from forests to farmland.

Is climate change a real threat? ›

“It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people and nature responds to increasing climate risks.” The world faces unavoidable multiple climate hazards over the next two decades with global warming of 1.5°C (2.7°F).

How long do humans have left? ›

Humanity has a 95% probability of being extinct in 7,800,000 years, according to J. Richard Gott's formulation of the controversial Doomsday argument, which argues that we have probably already lived through half the duration of human history.

How many years do we have left to save the earth? ›

Scientists say eight years left to avoid worst effects.”

How serious is climate change 2022? ›

Data from key monitoring stations show atmospheric levels of the three gases continue to increase in 2022. Temperature: The global average temperature in 2022 is estimated to be about 1.15 [1.02 to 1.28] °C above the 1850-1900 average. 2015 to 2022 are likely to be the eight warmest years on record.

What is the new climate change report 2022? ›

Climate crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies

The world is not on track to reach the Paris Agreement goals and global temperatures can reach 2.8°C by the end of the century. The Emissions Gap Report 2022 finds that the world must cut emissions by 45 per cent to avoid global catastrophe.

Is climate change irreversible 2022? ›

Warns Irreversible Climate Change Is More Likely Than Ever. What Districts Can Do Now. A new report from the United Nations doesn't mince words: If Earth continues on its current path, policies in place to stop the worst effects of climate change will fail.

How many people died due to climate change 2022? ›

Temperature extremes can also exacerbate chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes-related conditions. Based on country data submitted so far, it is estimated that at least 15 000 people died specifically due to the heat in 2022.

Is there good news about climate change? ›

But a close look at energy and emissions data around the world shows that there are a few bright spots of good news, and a lot of potential progress ahead. For example, renewable sources make up a growing fraction of the energy supply, and they're getting cheaper every year.

Will climate change be irreversible by 2030? ›

Without increased and urgent mitigation ambition in the coming years, leading to a sharp decline in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 , global warming will surpass 1.5°C in the following decades, leading to irreversible loss of the most fragile ecosystems, and …

Who is the biggest contributor to climate change? ›

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

Who is responsible for the global warming? ›

Scientists agree that global warming is caused mainly by human activity. Specifically, the evidence shows that certain heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, are warming the world—and that we release those gases when we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.

Is climate change a real threat conclusion? ›

Climate change poses a growing threat to sustainable development. The expected effects of climate change could seriously compromise the ability of the agriculture sectors to feed the world, and severely undermine progress toward eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

Is it too late to stop global warming? ›

Global average temperatures have risen and weather extremes have already seen an uptick, so the short answer to whether it's too late to stop climate change is: yes.

What will happen if we don't stop climate change? ›

Global warming increases the risk of more frequent—and heavier—rainfall, snowfall, and other precipitation. And as that risk increases, so too does the risk of flooding.

What is the honest truth about climate change? ›

Climate change is real and human-made, and there is overwhelming scientific consensus that this is true. Human-produced pollution is the main cause of climate change and this will become much more dangerous in the future if we do not act.

How hot will the earth be in 2050? ›

Since 1880, average global temperatures have increased by about 1 degrees Celsius (1.7° degrees Fahrenheit). Global temperature is projected to warm by about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7° degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050 and 2-4 degrees Celsius (3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

What is the biggest threat to humanity? ›

Global catastrophic risks in the domain of earth system governance include global warming, environmental degradation, extinction of species, famine as a result of non-equitable resource distribution, human overpopulation, crop failures, and non-sustainable agriculture.

What state is least affected by climate change? ›


Minnesota is one of the best states to move to avoid climate change. By 2050, only six days per year are expected to be dangerously hot.


1. UK Heatwave 'worse than expected' - climate change expert
(Sky News)
2. U.N. report warns climate change’s devastating impacts are accelerating
(CBS News)
3. Climate change : UN report finds key warming indicators breaking records • FRANCE 24 English
(FRANCE 24 English)
4. IPCC Climate report gives grim warning of 'irreversible' impact of climate change
(Sky News)
5. The New UN Climate Report: We're Screwed
(Second Thought)
6. New UN climate report: ‘Delay means death’
(ABC News)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Pres. Lawanda Wiegand

Last Updated: 03/27/2023

Views: 6093

Rating: 4 / 5 (51 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Pres. Lawanda Wiegand

Birthday: 1993-01-10

Address: Suite 391 6963 Ullrich Shore, Bellefort, WI 01350-7893

Phone: +6806610432415

Job: Dynamic Manufacturing Assistant

Hobby: amateur radio, Taekwondo, Wood carving, Parkour, Skateboarding, Running, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Pres. Lawanda Wiegand, I am a inquisitive, helpful, glamorous, cheerful, open, clever, innocent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.