Up to 85 percent of humanity lives in an area that’s already feeling the effects of human-driven climate change, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change.
Scientists used artificial intelligence (AI) to sift through over 100,000 climate studies, looking for patterns and trends in how climate change has been linked to weather impacts in different parts of the world.
Their findings suggest that the vast majority of the planet — 80 percent of land area where 85 percent of the world's population lives — is already experiencing some degree of impact from the climate crisis. This could include anything from more intense heatwaves, such as the record-smashing temperatures we saw in the Pacific Northwest in June, or increased rainfall, such as the flood experienced in parts of Europe and China this summer, as well as a myriad of other extreme weather events.
It was once thought that individual extreme weather events can not be directly attributed to human-caused climate change because they could potentially be accounted for within the normal variability of climate. However, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have now provided evidence of how climate change is directly responsible for extreme weather events, escalating in both size and frequency, seen in recent years.
“Our study leaves no doubt that the climate crisis is already being felt almost everywhere in the world. It is also extensively scientifically documented," Max Callaghan, lead study author and postdoctoral researcher in the MCC working group Applied Sustainability Science, said in a statement.
However, this might only be the tip of the iceberg. The AI analysis also revealed gaping holes in our understanding of climate change impacts, especially in low-income countries. Sturdy and robust evidence for climate impacts was twice as common for high-income countries, while evidence about low-income countries was notably thinner. In short, this means the impacts of climate change are not as clear in low countries compared to high-income countries. It also suggests that this 85 percent statistic is likely to be underestimated, the researchers say.
Previous research has highlighted how the climate crisis and global poverty are closely intertwined. Not only does climate change deepen global economic inequality, but poorer countries also have fewer resources to negate and cope with the problem, meaning they are likely to be hit even harder by climate impacts. If we are going to address the climate crisis as a planet, the researchers behind this latest research argue that we urgently need to fill in the "blind spots" surrounding climate impacts and how they will affect low-income countries.
"Developing countries are at the forefront of climate impacts, but we can see in our study there are real blind spots when it comes to climate impact data. Most of the areas where we are not able to connect the dots attribution-wise are in Africa,” said Shruti Nath, contributing author and researcher at Climate Analytics. “This has real implications for adaptation planning and access to funding in these places.”