Facts and figures on Climate Change


A cloud forest in Rwenzori Mountains National Park in western Uganda, one of Africa's most beautiful alpine areas.

State of play

  • Globally, 14 of the past 15 years have been the warmest on record.
  • The current pace of global average temperature rise puts approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species at increased risk of extinction.
  • All but 100 of 1,100 glaciers researched are receding (more ice melts in summer than re-forms the next winter).
  • Floods and droughts will become more common. Rainfall in Ethiopia, where droughts are already common, could decline by 10% over the next 50 years.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by 2020, 75-250 million people in Africa will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.

The power of nature

  • Natural ecosystems capture more than 4.7 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) annually.
  • Protected areas store 15% of terrestrial carbon and safeguard ecosystem services such as protection from disasters such as floods and securing water and food supplies.
  • The role of wetlands in reducing flooding associated with hurricanes in the United States is valued at an average of US$ 8,240 per hectare per year, with coastal wetlands in the US estimated to provide US$ 23.2 billion a year in storm protection services.
  • Protected areas in Bolivia, Mexico and Venezuela contain around 25 million hectares of forest, storing over 4 billion tonnes of carbon, estimated to be worth between US$ 45 and US$ 77 billion in terms of avoided global damage.
  • Protection of 1.63 million hectares of virgin taiga forests and peat soils in the Komi Republic, Russian Federation, will ensure a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.75 million tonnes of CO2 between 2010 and 2020.
  • Occupying only 2% of seabed area, vegetated wetlands represent 50% of carbon transfer from oceans to sediments.

The economic costs

  • The German Institute for Economic Research estimates that if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, annual economic damages could reach US$ 20 trillion by 2100.
  • The same study found that immediate adoption of climate protection policies could limit the temperature increase to 2°C and eliminate more than half of the damages; by 2100 this would avoid US$ 12 trillion in annual damages by spending $3 trillion per year on climate protection.
  • Extreme storms and flooding in the UK are likely to become more frequent and more severe. By 2080 the annual cost of flooding in the UK could be £22 billion, or 15 times what it is today.
  • Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, causing a sharp upswing in damages. In 2005, natural catastrophes caused US$ 220 billion worth of damage worldwide.

Wildlife impacts

  • Some species are much more susceptible to climate change impacts than others due to biological traits related to their life history, ecology, behaviour, physiology and genetics.
  • A 2007 report from the U.S. Geological Service estimated that as a result of sea-ice decline, today’s population of about 22,000 polar bears would decrease by two-thirds by the year 2050, even with moderate projections for future climate change.
  • Some species of butterflies, foxes, and alpine plants have moved farther north or to higher, cooler areas.
  • Researcher Bill Fraser has tracked the decline of the Adelie penguins on Antarctica, where their numbers have fallen from 32,000 breeding pairs to 11,000 in 30 years.
  • Life cycles and behaviour of species that depend on one another may become disrupted. For example, plants could bloom earlier than their pollinating insects become active.

Oceans overwhelmed

  • Sea surface temperatures have been higher during the past three decades than at any other time since 1880.
  • Ocean acidification is a direct result of increased human-induced carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. The ocean absorbs around 25% of total human emissions to the atmosphere each year.
  • Since the industrial revolution, the acidity of the surface ocean has increased by 30%. This rapid acidification rate jeopardizes the ability of ocean species and ecosystems to adapt.
  • Ocean acidification affects a range of marine species, including corals, mollusks such as oysters and mussels, and many phytoplankton and zooplankton species that form the base of marine food webs.
  • The coastal ecosystems of tidal marshes, mangroves and seagrasses sequester and store large quantities of ‘blue carbon’ in both the plants and in the sediment below them.
  • These Blue Carbon ecosystems are being destroyed at a rapid pace along the world’s coastlines, resulting in significant emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and ocean and contributing to climate change.


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