You’ll hear the terms climate change and global warming, tossed around on the news – temperatures increasing, sea levels rising and obligatory photos of polar bears on shrinking icebergs, but what does it actually

Climate change is as the name states, the Earth’s climate is changing. We know this as fact. Through collecting ice cores, using historical records as well as capturing other data and calculating expected patterns, we get a picture of what the climate should be like. But it’s a very complex issue as the climate is changing differently in various parts of the globe. The are areas where the planet is both cooling and warming as there are many different cycles and systems in the environment that interact with each other. Parts of the world are impacted in different ways.

Here in Australia, things are getting hotter, in fact in just over the past 100 years, there’s been around a 1C rise in temperature. This may not sound much, but it’s catastrophic for the habitats our plants and animals rely on…and further increases are expected.

It’s not just Australia, climate scientists have shown that global temperatures are increasing…and this correlates pretty accurately with the temperature increases that were predicted for our current CO2 levels and means no one is immune from the effects of climate change.

Image: Bureau of Meterology; Australia

Map showing temperature change in Australia since 1910

Image: IPCC

Image: IPCC: Note how the amount of CO2 is much higher than had been originally predicted (by thin black line)

Impacts of Climate Change

Everything on our planet is interelated – what happens to our atmosphere affects our land, and what happens to our land affects our oceans and so on.  We depend on our environments for the food to feed us, our fuel to heat and transport us…and everything depends on water. These necessities for life are also essential for our economic survival. The effects of climate change will be far reaching, but the most immediate effects will be seen in our natural environments. Here’s the most obvious ones:

  • Melting ice caps and rising sea levels
  • Sea acidification
  • Coral bleaching
  • Increase in droughts and extreme weather
  • Changes in plant and animal physiological behaviour
  • Increase in temperatures, leading to an increase in some diseases (e.g: malaria)

Global Climate change produces visible and significant changes to our environment but will affect different places around the globe in varying ways.

The IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) states that the way that climate change will affect individual regions will vary over time and will be dependant on the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change. What this means is that some plants and animals will be able to cope with the change in the environment where they live. Also, some countries will be more adept and motivated to invest money into projects which may reduce the effects of climate change.

Climate scientists cannot predict the future with 100% certainty. Our planet has never been in this situation before, so they have nothing to compare against. However, using models (complex computer programs) and data recordings, they have a pretty good idea of what to expect. So far, the outlook isn’t good.

Where do you live? How will our changing climate effects you?
(These are the regional impacts of global change forecast by the IPCC.)


Prepare for increased inland flash floods, more frequent coastal flooding with sea level rise. Increased erosion from storms meaning a reduction of crop productivity in Southern Europe (from a loss of nutrient-rich top soil). Glacial retreat in mountainous areas, reduced snow cover (goodbye ski season) and extensive species losses.

North America:

Loss of snow in western mountains, increase in rain-fed agricultural yields (by 5-20%). More frequent and intense heat waves in cities.

South America:

Forests drying out to become savannahs in Eastern Amazonia resulting in a loss of biodiversity (also due to human deforestation activities). Significant changes in water availability for human use in consumption, agriculture and generating energy.


Increase in dry conditions- the IPCC estimates that by 2020, approximately 75 – 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress. Agricultural yields that rely on rainfall will reduce by up to 50% in some regions – access to food and water will be compromised.


Access to freshwater will decrease in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia by 2050, coastal areas will be at risk to increased flooding. This carries issues of increased disease associated with floods and freshwater droughts in some regions.


Increase in drought, and an increase in frequency and intensity of bushfires, extreme heat waves. Sea level rise threatens coastal societies and environments, and increasing temperatures lead to more mass coral bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef. Climate scientists predict there will be fewer cyclones, but they will be more intense.

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