The historic rise of carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million in the atmosphere has many people thinking about climate change’s Brobdingnagian impacts. And right on cue, new research indicates that huge numbers of people, animals, and plants can expect to find themselves ejected from their homes because of global warming over the coming years and decades.
An estimated 32.4 million people were forced to flee their homes last year because of disasters such as floods and storms, according to a new report released by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre — and 98 percent of that displacement can be blamed on climate- and weather-related events. That includes not just people in poor countries but also many Americans displaced by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters.
Also picking up the homeless theme is Lord Nicholas Stern, a British economist famous for a groundbreaking 2006 report on the costs of climate change. He warns that hundreds of millions of people will likely be displaced in the near future. From The Guardian:
Massive movements of people are likely to occur over the rest of the century because global temperatures are likely to rise by up to 5C because carbon dioxide levels have risen unabated for 50 years, said Stern, who is head of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change.
“When temperatures rise to that level, we will have disrupted weather patterns and spreading deserts,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to leave their homelands because their crops and animals will have died. The trouble will come when they try to migrate into new lands, however. That will bring them into armed conflict with people already living there. Nor will it be an occasional occurrence. It could become a permanent feature of life on Earth.”
Meanwhile, a study published Sunday warned of far-reaching impacts of the changing climate on the world’s plants and animals. From Reuters:
About 57 percent of plants and 34 percent of animal species were likely to lose more than half the area with a climate suited to them by the 2080s if nothing was done to limit emissions from power plants, factories and vehicles, [scientists] wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Hardest hit would be species in sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, the Amazon and Central America.
“Climate change will greatly reduce biodiversity, even for many common animals and plants,” lead author Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia in England said. The decline would damage natural services for humans such as water purification and pollination, she said.
But the scientists said governments could reduce the projected habitat loss by 60 percent if global greenhouse gas emissions peaked by 2016 and then fell. A peak by 2030 would cut losses by 40 percent.
Only 4 percent of animals, and no plants, were likely to benefit from rising temperatures and gain at least 50 percent extra territory, the study said.
Get Grist in your inbox