Water and Climate Change Fast Facts

The Problem:

Climate change is causing severe droughts and floods, impacting the water cycle by influencing when, where, and how much precipitation falls. It also leads to more severe weather events over time. Increasing global temperatures causes water to evaporate in larger amounts, which will lead to higher levels of atmospheric water vapor and more frequent, heavy, and intense rains in the coming years. Climate scientists predict that this shift will lead to more floods since more water will fall than vegetation and soil can absorb. The remaining water, or runoff, drains into nearby waterways, picking up contaminants like fertilizer on the way. Excess runoff eventually travels to larger bodies of water like lakes, estuaries, and the ocean, polluting the water supply and limiting water access for humans and ecosystems. For areas that are already water-stressed especially because of other climate change related events such as drought, polluted water sources will only exacerbate access and quality problems and affect countless lives. (National Geographic)

Infographic by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

Water Access Statistics:

  • 3 billion people worldwide lack basic handwashing facilities at home, the most effective method for Covid-19 prevention. (United Nations)
  • By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions. (United Nations)
    • By 2040, 1 in 4 children will live in areas of extreme water stress. (UNICEF)
  • Almost 60 million children live in areas which already have low levels of access to water and are at risk of drought or flood. At times of drought, many families can’t afford to migrate and must rely on contaminated water supplies. (UNICEF)
40 Million People Rely on the Colorado River, and Now It’s Drying Up. The first-ever official shortage on the Colorado River is expected to be announced on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. A shortage will mean mandatory cutbacks to some users in the Southwest and offers a stark warning of what’s to come if conditions don’t improve. (Click to watch, 9:23)

Rising Sea Levels Statistics:

  • Sea level rise can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination with salt, and lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants. Higher sea levels are coinciding with more dangerous hurricanes and typhoons that move more slowly and drop more rain, contributing to more powerful storm surges that can strip away everything in their path. Between 1963 and 2012, almost half of all deaths from Atlantic hurricanes were caused by storm surges. (National Geographic)
  • Global average sea level has risen by about 8 inches since 1900, with about 3 inches occurring in the last 27 years. (Globalchange.gov)
  • By 2100, land now home to 200 million people could sit permanently below the high tide line. (Climate Central)
  • Mainland China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand are home to roughly 75% of the 300 million people on land facing the vulnerability of extreme annual flooding by 2050. (Climate Central)
  • In many locations along the U.S. coastline, high-tide flooding is now 300% to more than 900% more frequent than it was 50 years ago. Roughly 75% of the tidal flood days now occurring in towns along the East Coast would not be happening in the absence of the rise in the sea level caused by human emissions. (Climate.gov)
A city worker helps a woman who decided to cross St. Mark’s square on a gangway despite a prohibition to do so in Venice, Italy on November 17, 2019.
Photo by AP/Luca Bruno

Glaciers Statistics:

  • Greenhouse gases have caused most of the climate warming and glacier retreat in the past 50 years. (National Snow and Ice Data Center)
  • The pace of glacier loss has accelerated from 9 inches per year in the 1980s, to 17 inches per year in the 1990s, 2.2 feet per year in the 2000s, to 3 feet per year for 2010-2018. (Climate.gov)
  • If all the ice that currently exists on Earth in glaciers and sheets melted, it would raise sea level by 216 feet. That could cause entire states and even some countries to disappear under the waves, from Florida to Bangladesh. (National Geographic)
  • Even if we significantly curb emissions in the coming decades, more than a third of the world’s remaining glaciers will melt before the year 2100. When it comes to sea ice, 95% of the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic is already gone. (World Wildlife Fund)
  • Around the Antarctic Peninsula, temperatures are warming at a rate that is approximately six times the global average. Air temperatures increased by about 2.5°C (4.8°F) from 1950-2000. (Antarctic Glaciers)
  • The snows of Mount Kilimanjaro have melted more than 80% since 1912. Glaciers in the Garhwal Himalaya in India are retreating so fast that researchers believe that most central and eastern Himalayan glaciers could virtually disappear by 2035. Arctic sea ice has thinned significantly over the past half century, and its extent has declined by about 10% in the past 30 years. (National Geographic)
Photos by Louis H. Pedersen (1917) and Bruce F. Molina (2005)

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