Humans have never felt the impact of climate change more than recently, and those effects will only accelerate in the coming years. Food and water will become more scarce, diseases more prevalent, weather more extreme, and the death toll of climate change will only increase without drastic efforts to combat global warming. That’s the broad agreement from a group of 275 scientists and experts representing 67 countries in the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“The science is settled that humans are changing our climate,” said Kristie Ebi, Ph.D., a lead author of the IPCC report, during a press conference. “Continued greenhouse gas emissions will further change weather variables and weather patterns that will put human and natural systems at much higher risk than today.”
Ebi and a group of scientists emphasized the grim consequences of continuing to emit carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
Researchers also warned about the threat of more intense and destructive hurricanes along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Heat waves and deadly floods could pose more frequent and more dangerous threats to America’s cities, too.
“Together, growing urbanization and climate change create complex risks, especially for those cities that already experience poorly planned urban growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, and a lack of basic services,” explained IPCC co-chair Debra Roberts, Ph.D.
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Rachel Bezner Kerr, who has a doctorate in development sociology, wrote about decreasing agricultural yields of key crops in North America, like wheat, corn and soybeans. She and her team examined agricultural declines, which date back to 1961 and are now definitively linked to climate change. The impacts also extend to water, damaging or destroying fisheries and aquaculture. Without action, those trends will worsen, causing malnutrition among vulnerable communities as food becomes more scarce and more expensive.
People aren’t just suffering a physical toll from climate change. Mental health is also an increasing concern for experts. Depression, anxiety and PTSD are on the rise, linked to everything from disasters and evacuations to food insecurity and general worry. Canadian researcher Sherilee Harper, Ph.D., predicts these problems will intensify over the next two decades as global warming advances.
IPCC authors wrote about a broad range of concerns: the decreasing ability of people to work outdoors, the expansion of disease-carrying mosquitos, mass deaths during heat waves and extreme weather. Among all the risks, the experts highlighted the heightened danger to vulnerable populations, echoing a call for climate justice.
But this report does bring hope, if we respond quickly.
“Any further delay will miss the rapidly closing window to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” Edwin Castellanos, Ph.D., urged. His colleague Camille Parmesan, Ph.D., added the caveat that “emissions reductions alone won’t do it.” She emphasized the need for carbon reduction, largely from protecting and expanding natural carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands.
“Our assessment clearly shows that tackling all these different challenges involves everyone — governments, the private sector, civil society — working together to prioritize risk reduction, as well as equity and justice, in decision-making and investment,” said IPCC co-chair Roberts.