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The effects of climate change

Climate change destabilises the Earth’s temperature equilibrium and has far-reaching effects on human beings and the environment. A distinction is made between direct and indirect effects of climate change. During the course of global warming, the energy balance and thus the temperature of the earth change, due to the increased concentration of greenhouse gases, which has a significant impact on humans and the environment.

It is not scientifically possible to assign individual weather events to the current climate change, however, it can be statistically proven that global warming will increase the probability of extreme weather events. The sixth IPCC report from 2021 states that “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred”.

 

The direct consequences of man-​made climate change include: 

  • rising maximum temperatures 
  • rising minimum temperatures  
  • rising sea levels  
  • higher ocean temperatures  
  • an increase in heavy precipitation (heavy rain and hail) 
  • increase in the proportion of violent tropical cyclones 
  • increase in aridity and drought 
  • decline in Arctic sea ice and snow cover  
  • glacier recession and retreat 
  • thawing permafrost 

 

The indirect consequences of climate change, which directly affect us humans and our environment, include: 

  • an increase in hunger and water crises, especially in developing countries 
  • threat to livelihoods from floods and forest fires 
  • health risks due to increase in frequency and intensity of heat extremes   
  • economic implications of dealing with secondary damage related to climate change  
  • increasing spread of pests and pathogens 
  • loss of biodiversity due to limited adaptability and adaptability speed of flora and fauna   
  • ocean acidification due to increased HCO3 concentrations in the water as a consequence of increased CO2 concentrations 
  • the need for adaptation in all areas (e.g. agriculture, forestry, energy, infrastructure, tourism, etc.) 

 

Many changes - especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level - due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions over centuries to millennia, are irreversible. 

 

 

Tipping points in the climate system 

As the global climate is a highly interconnected system that is influenced by many different factors, the consequences usually result in positive or negative feedback effects. This refers to developments that are self-enhancing due to the occurrence of certain conditions. These tipping points are the crossing of thresholds for which certain consequences can no longer be avoided, even if temperatures were to be lowered again later. 

A common example is the ice-albedo feedback, which refers to the melting of the polar caps. According to this, extensive ice surfaces have a cooling effect on the global climate, as a high proportion of radiation is reflected. As a result of the global rise in the average temperature, however, these ice surfaces begin to melt, the ice surfaces shrink and the amount of reflected radiation is reduced. At the same time, the area of land or ocean that has a significantly lower albedo will increase, reflecting less radiation and thus intensifying the actual cause of glacier melt.  

Scientists can calculate the tipping points of individual subsystems of the global climate. The higher the global rise in temperature, the more the climate system is affected, so that at a certain point, despite significant efforts, a reversal in the process is no longer possible. Where exactly these tipping points can be found is difficult to predict. Such tipping points are expected for the melting of the polar caps and for the stability of important ocean currents. Other possible tipping points are the disappearance of the Amazon rainforest, the thawing of the permafrost with the release of methane and carbon dioxide, or the acidification of the oceans and the decrease in the absorption capacity for carbon dioxide. 

According to the 2021 IPCC report, profound and long-term changes such as melting ice caps, rising temperatures and sea levels or ocean acidification have already been irreversibly set in motion. 

 

Sources:

IPCC 2021

 

You can find further exciting information on the subject of climate change and climate protection in our climate booklet

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