Climate Change - Impacts and Humanitarian Implications
Impacts and Humanitarian Implications
Dr. Charles Ehrhart
Climate Change Coordinator
the heat is rising
• 1995 projection: 1.0-3.5ºC
• 2001 projection: 1.4-5.8ºC
• 2007 projection: 1.8-6.4ºC
• Note: 2007 emissions were at
the ‘very high end’ of the
• The rate of emissions is rising
faster than projected
• Most recent projections suggest
a temperature increase of
3.4-7.2ºC this century unless
drastic changes are quickly 0
implemented IPCC 1995 IPCC 2001 IPCC 2007 CSIRO 2008
Lowest projection Highest projection
When projecting how hot our world will become, scientists address layers of uncertainty in a number of ways. For instance, they compensate for
weaknesses in individual climate models by blending those with complementary strengths together. In order to deal with unpredictable socio-economic and
other factors (e.g. the persistence of carbon sinks and magnitude of biosphere feedback) affecting the concentration of GHGs accumulating in our
atmosphere, they have developed a range of scenarios.
The single most authoritative source for climate change projections (and all climate change information, generally) is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, or IPCC. As indicated in this chart, the IPCC’s projections are getting worse as:
• Our ability to make accurate projections increases and
• We continue steaming down a “business as usual” pathway.
Indeed, climate change is happening with greater speed and intensity than initially predicted. Safe levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases may be far lower
than previously thought, and we may be closer to an irreversible tipping point than had been anticipated. Meanwhile, global CO2 emissions are rising at
steeper and steeper rates: last year alone, levels of atmospheric CO2 increased by 0.6 percent, or 19 billion tons. Put another way, last year’s carbon dioxide
increase means 2.4 molecules of CO2 were added to every million molecules of air. Since 2000, annual increases of two parts per million (ppm) or more
have been common, compared with 1.5 ppm per year in the 1980s and less than one ppm per year during the 1960s. The situation is clearly headed in the
wrong direction… and going there quickly.
• Increasing temperatures
• Shifting seasons
• Changes in the amount of rainfall
• Increasing intensity & frequency of
• Melting glaciers & rising sea level
When we hear references to “global warming,” people are only talking about the way in which human behavior is increasing our planet’s temperature. However,
this is triggering a wide range of climatic changes - e.g. shifting seasons (winters/rains arrive later in the year), changing rainfall levels, increasing intensity and/or
frequency of floods, droughts, hurricanes, etc. One way of understanding this connection is to draw from our own experience: Have you ever looked into a pot of
water that you are heating on the stove? At first, the water is still. As you add more heat/energy to the water, you begin to see swirling convection currents. The
same thing is happening in our atmosphere - as we add more heat/energy to the system, it becomes more dynamic, more turbulent... and more chaotic.
“Climate” typically refers to weather conditions averaged across 30 years (a period recommended by the World Meteorological Organization). An easy way
to understand the difference between “climate” and “weather” is to think: “climate” is what you expect to happen (this time of year is hot), “weather” is what
you actually get (today was mild).
Greater food insecurity
Greater water stress & scarcity
Greater health risks
Stresses on natural resource-
Greater risk of violent conﬂict over
access to productive ecosystems
More “humanitarian disasters”
More people on the move in
search of safe havens
The impacts of climate change have profound consequences for all of us. However, this is especially true for poor people around the world.
Reflecting on the human disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina helps us understand why. In New Orleans, poorer communities often occupied the most flood-
prone areas (they were most exposed), had the least robust housing (making them more sensitive to hurricane damage), and lacked access to resources and
supporting institutions that might have helped them avoid the worst impacts of the hurricane (e.g. access to early warning systems, capacity to evacuate their
properties quickly and resources to find alternative accommodation). Indeed, many people who couldn’t’ afford insurance stayed home to protect their property
from looters despite the risk this posed to their lives. Loss of assets subsequently reduced their ability to recover and adapt after the event, putting them at greater
risk of future disasters.
• Its less likely for better-off people to be directly exposed to the worst impacts of climate change
• Its easier for better-off people to deal with the impacts of climate change (by paying for more expensive food, buying medicine, etc.)
Let’s look at a few of these consequences in greater depth.
food & water in Africa
Climatic changes will
contribute to water stress,
land degradation, lower crop
yields and increased risk of
wild ﬁre. 50% decline in
productivity for rainfed,
lowland agricultural by 2020.
As a result of climate change,
between 75 to 250 million
people in Africa will not have
enough water to meet their
basic needs by 2020.
projected changes in weather-related hazards
During the next 20-30 year period, there will be
an upsurge in weather-related hazards.
In 2007, CARE and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) released a joint report on the humanitarian implications of climate
change. The results have been presented to the UN’s General Assembly, to the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, USAID, and the Danish Parliament,
The study showed which parts of the world will be at greatest risk of humanitarian disasters in the next 20-30 year period and where investment in disaster risk
reduction, preparedness and management should be concentrated now to avoid higher costs later.
changing intensity of hazards
Scientists have documented an
increase in the frequency of
temperature extremes, an increase
in areas affected by drought,
increasingly frequent heavy
precipitation events, shifting wind
patterns and changing cyclone
This map shows where increasing
risk of extreme precipitation
overlaps with different levels of
human vulnerability in Latin
America and the Caribbean.
This map shows where increasing
risk of drought overlaps with
different levels of human
vulnerability in Sub-Saharan
summary of flood and drought projections
During the next 20-30 year period, it is
unlikely that we will see signiﬁcant changes
in where ﬂoods and droughts occur.
However, we are likely to see:
Widespread changes in annual and
seasonal levels of rainfall
Shifts in the timing of rainfall
Longer dry periods in many parts of
An increase in the number, intensity
and duration of ﬂoods and droughts
An expansion of areas currently
affected by ﬂoods and drought
The risk that weather-related
conditions will trigger human-
induced disasters is especially
acute in drought prone parts of
Climate change raises the risk
of conﬂict - especially in parts of
south Asia and central and east
“Vulnerability” refers to the likelihood
that individuals, communities or
societies will be harmed by a hazard.
People in some social groups are more
vulnerable to hazards than others.
Women and girl children are especially
Vulnerability is determined by a combination of physical, social, economic, political and environmental factors or processes - including the character, magnitude
and rate of climate change, as well as the variation people are exposed to, their sensitivity and coping capacity. Gender-based roles and restrictions frequently
result in women being more exposed to hazards while, at the same time, undermining women’s coping capacity.
Four key message:
The day-to-day impacts of climate change are increasing many people’s
vulnerability to hazards.
Climate change is increasing hazard risks.
We need to pay special attention to those places where climate change
and high human vulnerability overlap - and recognize that communities
are not homogenous.
Its a safe bet that things are going to get worse... and this should shape
our decisions at both strategic and operational levels.
To learn more about the humanitarian implications of
climate change and CARE’s work, visit our website at