No one knows how much warming is "safe". What we do know is that climate change is already harming people and ecosystems. Its reality can be seen in melting glaciers, disintegrating polar ice, thawing permafrost, changing monsoon patterns, rising sea levels, changing ecosystems and fatal heat waves.

Scientists are not the only ones talking about these changes. From the apple growers in Himachal to the farmers in Vidharbha and those living in disappearing islands in the Sunderbans are already struggling with the impacts of climate change.

But this is just the beginning. We need to act to avoid catastrophic climate change. While not all regional effects are known yet, here are some likely future effects if we allow current trends to continue.

Relatively likely and early effects of small to moderate warming:

  • Rise in sea level due to melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of the oceans as global temperature increases.

  • Massive release of greenhouse gases from melting permafrost and dying forests.

  • A high risk of more extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and floods. The global incidence of drought has already doubled over the past 30 years.

  • Severe regional impacts. Example: In Europe river flooding will increase and in coastal areas the risk of flooding, erosion and wetland loss will increase substantially.

  • Natural systems, including glaciers, coral reefs, mangroves, Arctic ecosystems, alpine ecosystems, Boreal forests, tropical forests, prairie wetlands and native grasslands, will be severely threatened.

  •  The existing risks of species extinction and biodiversity loss will increase.

  • The greatest impacts will be on the poorer countries least able to protect themselves from rising sea levels. There will be spread of disease and declines in agricultural production in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

  •  At all scales of climate change, developing countries will suffer the most.

Longer term catastrophic effects if warming continues:

  • Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting. Unless checked, warming from emissions may trigger the irreversible meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet in the coming decades, which would add up to a seven meters rise in sea-level over some centuries. New evidence showing the rate of ice discharge from parts of the Antarctic means that it is also facing a risk of meltdown.

  • The slowing, shifting or shutting down of the Atlantic Gulf stream current is having dramatic effects in Europe, disrupting the global ocean circulation system.

  • Catastrophic releases of methane from the oceans are leading to rapid increases in methane in the atmosphere and the consequent warming.

Never before has humanity been forced to grapple with such an immense environmental crisis. If we do not take urgent and immediate action to stop global warming, the damage could become irreversible.

The latest updates

 

PM calls environmental clearances the new ‘licence-permit-quota raj’

Blog entry by Ignatius Joseph | January 18, 2013

Stay up-to-date on news related to the environment. PM calls environmental clearances the new ‘licence-permit-quota raj’ At the Union Cabinet meeting on January 10 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that environmental...

When humans take over. The story of Uttrakhand

Blog entry by Bipasha Majumder | January 16, 2013

Imagine a place with green rugged hills, deep valleys, sparkling blue rivers, apple and cherry orchards, sleepy little towns and villages and friendly and humble people. Travel further up and let this place open up to the ever...

Governments must confront climate change in 2013

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | January 14, 2013

Blog also published on the Guardian's Sustainable Business Blog. I hope I am wrong. But in 2013, we can expect to witness more devastating extreme weather events, fuelled and supercharged by the destructive power of a warming...

Water woes: when every drop counts

Blog entry by Dr Pallavi Singh | January 9, 2013

As a child I once came across this phrase 'Water water everywhere, not a single drop to drink'. Though always amused, my young mind could never quite envisage the gravity of the above lines. Years later, I can perhaps now imagine how...

8 reasons why Shell can't be trusted in the Arctic

Blog entry by franziska_g | January 8, 2013

Shell's most recent 'mishap' a few days ago was not the first setback the oil giant has suffered in its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic. In fact, it's the eighth in a growing list of reasons why Shell should not be trusted in the...

The climate change story at Angkor Photo Festival

Blog entry by John Novis | December 5, 2012

Tonight, on a very warm evening in Siem Reap, Cambodia I gave my presentation at the Angkor Photo Festival as part of their nightly slide show screenings.  The setting was the gardens of the famous Foreign Correspondence Club, a site...

Finding Heart In The Melting Arctic

Image gallery | September 19, 2012

Finding Heart In The Melting Arctic

Image gallery | September 19, 2012

Finding Heart In The Melting Arctic

Image gallery | September 19, 2012

Finding heart in the melting Arctic

Blog entry by Sara Ayech | September 19, 2012

The record has already been broken – but it is about to be shattered. This isn't the kind of record you wish to remember and tell your grandchildren about. This is no tale of great sporting achievement like Usain Bolt smashing...

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