National and international context

The impacts of global warming are likely to be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” according to a major report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their most comprehensive assessment to date. The mass of evidence on which the report draws on, points to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels and de-forestation as fundamentally altering the climate system.

2014, the year in which the report was released, was also the hottest year on record and July 2015 was the Earth’s hottest month ever recorded according to NOAA . Western and Central Europe experienced warmer-than-average conditions during July while northern areas experienced cooler-than-average conditions (see map below and click enlarge button).

While there is always year-to-year variance in weather patterns, the 10 warmest years – with the exception of 1998 – have now occurred since 2000. This trend continues a long-term warming of the planet, according to an analysis of surface temperature measurements by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Nor has there been any slowdown or “hiatus” claimed by climate change sceptics: the most recent data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirms the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century.

The warming of the atmosphere and oceans has already had observable effects on the environment: the oceans are more acidic, the sea level is rising and glaciers have shrunk. Widespread extinctions of plant and animal species are expected over the next century and observed declines and range retractions generally match predictions .

Ocean acidification has been described by the U.S. Natural Resources Defence Council as “the final warning” that we are fundamentally changing the way the planet works.

It points to growing evidence that acidification may already be impacting marine life around the world; from the diminished reproduction of pacific oysters to the decline in calcification essential to coral reefs. If allowed to continue, the projected impacts could see the collapse of food webs and fish stocks. Oceans create half the oxygen we use to breathe, and one-fifth of the animal protein consumed by more than 1.5 billion people. They also provide shore protection in the form of coral reefs and mangroves.

Projected impacts also include ocean related tourism, a multi-billion dollar industry. The NDRC estimates that ocean related tourism, recreation and fishing are responsible for more than 2 million jobs in the US alone.

The economic and human cost of climate change is already mounting

According to a report by the UK Royal Society, between 1980 and 2004 the economic cost is estimated to be US$1.4 trillion. As the current warming trend continues, the number and frequency of extreme weather events will increase with heat waves occuring more often and lasting longer while heavy rainstorms and snowstorms will become more intense and frequent. Overall, precipitation will rise in high latitudes and the equatorial Pacific. In mid-latitudes, dry areas will get drier, wet areas will get wetter.

A global temperature rise greater than 2 degrees Celsius will compromise food supplies globally and Human health problems will get worse. Risks to poorer people are greater than for others, in all countries.