Protecting people from a changing climate: The case for resilience
Our new study lays bare the potential impact of climate risks for people across the globe—and underscores the need to protect the most vulnerable and build resilience.
By Harry Bowcott, Lori Fomenko, Alastair Hamilton, Mekala Krishnan, Mihir Mysore, Alexis Trittipo, and Oliver Walker – The United Nations’ 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated—with higher confidence than ever before—that, without meaningful decarbonization, global temperatures will rise to at least 1.5°C above preindustrial levels within the next two decades.1 This could have potentially dangerous and irreversible effects. A better understanding of how a changing climate could affect people around the world is a necessary first step toward defining solutions for protecting communities and building resilience.
As part of our knowledge partnership with Race to Resilience at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we have built a detailed, global assessment of the number of people exposed to four key physical climate hazards, primarily under two different warming scenarios. This paper lays out our methodology and our conclusions from this independent assessment.
Our findings suggest the following conclusions:
- Under a scenario with 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2030, almost half of the world’s population could be exposed to a climate hazard related to heat stress, drought, flood, or water stress in the next decade, up from 43 percent today3 —and almost a quarter of the world’s population would be exposed to severe hazards. (For detailed explanations of these hazards and how we define “severe,” see sidebar “A climate risk analysis focused on people: Our methodology in brief.”)
- Indeed, as severe climate events become more common, even in a scenario where the world reaches 1.5°C of warming above preindustrial levels by 2050 rather than 2030, nearly one in four people could be exposed to a severe climate hazard that could affect their lives or livelihoods.
- Climate hazards are unevenly distributed.