What are the impacts of climate change?

1.5°C vs. 2°C

This video was posted in 2018, yet countries are still not on track to fulfil the promises they made in the Paris Agreement.


To recap, the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by nearly every country worldwide in 2015 with a goal to limit Earth’s average temperature to well below 2° Celsius, but preferably to 1.5° Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.15

For context, pre-industrial refers to the time period of 1850–1900 as deemed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.7 The global average temperature for this time period was roughly 13.75°C, or 56.74°F, which is now used as the baseline for climate scientists to calculate the amount of average global warming at any given time relative to that reference period.13 This time period is used as the baseline due to being the earliest period with near-global temperature observations.


Here is an illustration from the World Wildlife Fund showing the difference of impacts on people and planet from an increase of 1.5°C versus 2°C.

Impacts on the Environment2

Heat waves

Heat waves are long periods of time with above-normal temperatures. As the Earth warms, more areas will be at risk for hotter and more frequent extreme heat waves. Learn more about the link between climate change and extreme heat.

Heavy Precipitation

Heavy downpours are becoming more common in many locations. Learn more about the link between climate change and heavy precipitation.

Sea-Level Rise

Sea level has risen about 8 inches due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Warmer seas and oceans is also making coastal storms more damaging. Scientists predict sea levels in the United States could rise 1 to 4 feet this century, and could be even higher if glaciers in Greenland or Antarctica melt especially quickly.

Threats to habitats and animals

As temperatures warm, many plants and animals are migrating to higher elevations or away from the equator. Some animals may have difficulty moving or adapting to new habitats.

Ocean acidification

Extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, making them more acidic. This can make it difficult for corals and microorganisms that form shells to survive, disrupting the food supply for other sea animals.


These are large fires that burn vast amounts of forests and brush. When they are not controlled, wildfires can destroy homes and be deadly. The number of large wildfires and the length of the wildfire season have been increasing in recent decades. Find out how climate change will worsen wildfire conditions.


Global warming will increase the risk of drought in some places, and might make them unsuitable for growing food. Warmer temperatures can also increase water demand and evaporation, stressing water supplies. Learn about the links between climate change and drought.

Impacts on Humans

All of the above are impacts of climate change on the environment, but because humans are dependent on the environment for survival, any changes to the environment also affect impact us. This video below shows just a few of the many impacts of climate change on our health.

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