The UN’s Latest Dire Climate Warnings, Visualized

If you can’t slog through the IPCC’s 2,600-page report on the latest dangers of climate change, here are some handy charts and graphs about the new consensus on how bad things are going to get.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations group that issues reports on the latest climate science, has put out its latest dire warning for humanity in the Working Group II report, which examines all the predicted impacts that climate change will have on the planet. Unfortunately for anyone actually interested in reading the report, it’s incredibly boring. Here are some of the most salient points that are worth paying attention to: In short, things are going to get very, very bad.


No one will escape unscathed

Climate change doesn’t just affect poor countries, though they are generally less equipped for adaptation. Africa will deal with more water stress, crop productivity issues, and “vector and vector-borne diseases”, but North America doesn’t have it much better, threatened by loss of ecosystems, heat-related deaths, urban floods, and water quality issues. Here’s the IPCC’s handy map of physical, biological, and human systems that will be affected by climate change around the world:

In case the scale of these problems isn’t clear, the report spells it out: “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger. Climate-change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries.”

Climate change is inevitable

Even if humanity miraculously bands together today to slow climate change, temperatures will rise. In the IPCC’s low-emissions scenario (labeled RCP2.6 on maps), global temperatures still creep up to 1°C more than they are today. That’s enough to cause real problems on the ground, like lowered crop yields and increasing food prices. In the high emissions scenario (labeled RCP8.5), temperatures will rise 4°C. That’s the “business as usual” scenario.

Here’s what the two scenarios look like on the map:

In a medium to high emissions scenario, we can expect mass species extinction, coastal flooding and erosion, a decline in food availability, human health problems, landslides, drought, fire, increased displacement as climate change destroys homes, and much, much more. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) outlines some of the more dire consequences of a high-emissions scenario:

The lowest-emissions scenario will curb some of these climate change consequences, but not all. From the report: “Reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required. Under all assessed scenarios for adaptation and mitigation, some risk from adverse impacts remains.”


Adaptation is important

There are steps we can take now that would dramatically improve our ability to handle climate change. The IPCC calls these “climate resilient pathways,” and they will require widespread political, technological, economic, and social changes. CCAFS looks at some of the steps necessary to create a more resilient food system:

Prepping other sectors for climate change will require similarly expansive efforts. As mentioned earlier, though, costly resilience measures won’t be nearly as accessible to poor countries as they are to wealthier ones. Ultimately, that inequality will affects us in ways we can’t even imagine.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more