Looking at the wildfire in Greece – what exactly can we expect from climate change?

If you have been following the news in the last few days you must have noticed the devastating fires that are currently causing havoc in Greece. This type of disaster if maybe not caused but is definitely much worsened by climate change. Just think extended heatwave, drought, violent winds… But climate change will affect basic human needs in multiple ways in the (near) future. As I mentioned in an article before different regions will be affected in different ways, and other factors such as population will also alter the exact outcomes. For example people in poorer, developing countries are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change impacts, but there will be global impacts also.

Our basic needs such as food, water, shelter and health will be all affected.  To look no further we can expect significant impacts on food production around the world. These include reduced crop yields and livestock productivity due to heat, flooding and droughts. For example African countries and the Mediterranean will face reduced precipitation leading in the long-term to desertification. The increase in the water temperatures around the globe is also damaging fisheries which could have potentially devastating effects on Asian countries, who rely heavily on fishing for their food supply. Other countries such as Ireland might be able to benefit on the other hand from the changes as rising temperatures will mean that crops and food stuff that previously could not be produced here will thrive. However, the overall disruption of food availability due to climatic changes will likely affect food security negatively everywhere.

As I eluded to above in certain areas such as the Mediterranean, South Africa and parts of Brazil desertification is a major threat due to the change and reduction of water supplies. Areas that are already under pressure for water due to their population could face social turmoil resulting from water scarcity. Again some places such as those at high latitudes or wet tropical areas will experience more plentiful water availability caused by increased annual stream-flow and precipitation but droughts will also become more wide-spread. Furthermore, to put it in simple words while it will rain less, when it does it will be more violent, so instead of increasing water supply it will lead to flooding. These changes including the unprecedented melting of the ice sheets, rising sea levels and extreme events will damage water quality which sustains our fragile eco-systems, contributes to human health, food production and sanitation.

Regarding human health the UN predicts that climate-sensitive diseases and health impacts are inevitable. These range from heat stress to worsened air quality due to wildfires, wild spread meningitis caused by droughts, diseases carried by mosquitoes exacerbated by floods, not to mention the effects of climate change on mental health such as anxiety or even depression. Once again people in low-income countries are especially at risk, particularly densely-populated urban areas in poverty, but rural dwellers as well, older people, children and coastal populations.

These adverse changes may cause migration of large groups of people between countries which we have been witnessing in the last few years with a large group of asylum seekers arriving to Europe from the Middle East in particular. It is also predicted that all of these issues will increase national security problems and cause international turmoil. In other words while some areas and countries might initially benefit from the changes in the long-term the negative impacts will more than likely outweigh the benefits. So while more privileged areas might not suffer to the same extent as others, especially the developing countries loss of biodiversity, water and food scarcity, health impacts, international conflicts will eventually affect us all.

Some more links:

  • International Climate Impacts by the US EPA at: https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climate-impacts/international-climate-impacts_.html
  • IPCC report on Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/
  • EEA Report on Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016 available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-change-impacts-and-vulnerability-2016
  • UNFCC report on Climate Change: Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Adaptation in Developing Countries
  • Effects of climate change on Ireland by the Irish EPA at: http://www.epa.ie/climate/communicatingclimatescience/whatisclimatechange/whatimpactwillclimatechangehaveforireland/
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