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Youthink! Issues - Climate Change

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Climate Change
Human-induced changes in long-term weather averages -- with extremes such as droughts, severe storms and floods -- that are being observed and are projected to continue
© Ryan Rayburn | The World Bank

What is it?

Climate change is one of the most pressing development issues in the world today. Changes in long-term weather averages and conditions, including extreme temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and more frequent weather-related disasters, are being observed and are projected to continue.

The potential impacts of climate change are far-flung and varied. In some parts of the world, annual rainfall is expected to decrease over the long term; in other places, new fluctuations in rainfall and temperatures will have a serious impact. Even where annual rainfall stays the same, it may rain after bigger gaps in time, or rain much harder and for shorter periods. This could lead to both increased droughts and increased flooding.

Although Earth's climate has fluctuated over history, in the last 100 years this has happened at a rate like never before, with average surface temperature rising by about 0.6-0.7ºC (1.2 to 1.4ºF). It may not sound like much, but since climate is a "non-linear" dynamical system, even slight temperature changes have a range of cascading effects.

Humans are causing this By burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas, and clearing forests, we have drastically increased the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As more of these gases enter the atmosphere, less heat can escape into space. While the greenhouse effect occurs naturally -- making Earth warm enough to inhabit -- human activity since the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century has created a "runaway greenhouse effect," accelerating global warming. Today, atmospheric CO2 is at a level that has not been seen for at least 800,000 years!

Why should I care?

Climate change is a development issue. Because of its potential to affect so many aspects of human life, it is arguably the world's most important development issue today. The world's rich countries, which industrialized many decades ago, are largely responsible for setting the problem in motion. But the poorest communities and countries will be hardest hit, since they are typically more vulnerable to increased floods, droughts, storms, and other climatic changes, and don't have the means to cope adequately. Many development gains could even be reversed because of climate change, leaving more people in poverty. Climate change is expected to:

  • Damage agriculture and threaten the food supply
  • Reduce water supplies and quality
  • Lead to more malaria, dengue fever and other diseases, raising death tolls where health services are already weak
  • Harm ecological systems and reduce biodiversity
  • Raise sea levels, displacing millions of people and even threatening the existence of some low-lying island states

What is the international community doing?

The international community recognizes that climate change will affect poor people. Scientists, policymakers and societies are tackling the issue on several fronts.


Adaptation means taking measures to prepare for the impacts of climate change. This includes education, awareness-raising and training on the impacts of climate change, as well as actions such as planting drought-resistant seeds, and creating better coastal protection. People's ability to adapt is influenced by their income, health, access to secure shelter, social networks, and local policies. Sound development policies should consider adaptation needs, and countries are increasingly doing so. Climate change is already threatening the lives, health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions worldwide. Many of these people lack the financial, technical, human and institutional resources to adapt.An important first step toward adaptation is identifying who is most affected and how. This knowledge helps shape strategic planning for adaptation at all levels, from the global to the local.


Mitigation means actions that will reduce the production of greenhouse gas emissions or remove them from the atmosphere. We can lower emissions by using fewer fossil fuels for energy production and more alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and absorb carbon, which is why planting forests is important. Deforestation, on the other hand, often releases carbon back to the atmosphere. While developed countries have been largely responsible for causing climate change, rapid industrialization in those countries is deepening the damage. A major challenge for these countries is to develop without causing environmental harm.

In 2008, the World Bank, other multilateral development banks, and a range of developed and developing countries created the Climate Investment Funds (CIF). The goal of these funds is to help developing countries adapt to, and mitigate the effects of climate change by increasing investment in low-carbon technologies, and supporting innovative programs that address climate change. Donors have pledged more than $6 billion to the CIF.

What can I do?

Each of us, no matter where we live, can help reduce carbon emissions at an individual level. You can recycle, walk or ride a bike instead of driving, and unplug idle electronics. These may seem like small steps, but they do make a difference, especially when whole communities join the effort.

Spreading the word is another important way to make an impact. Many people aren't aware of the urgency of the climate crisis, and knowing more may spur them into action too.

For more information: Climate Change

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