Climate Action

Climate change is already altering everything, from fertility choices to insuring our homes

Factory producing smoke during sunset. Climate change is already changing the way many of us live or think.

Climate change is already changing the way many of us live or think. Image: Unsplash/Alexander Tsang

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Climate change is already affecting people’s lives in a variety of ways.
  • Global warming is the biggest health threat facing humanity, the World Health Organization says.
  • It’s also making people rethink family planning choices and putting properties at risk of becoming uninsurable.
  • Disruptions to supply chains because of extreme weather are shaking the global economy.

How is climate change affecting you?

You may think the biggest impacts lie far away – in terms of time or geography. But global warming is already changing the way many of us live or think.

1. Health suffers because of climate change

Climate change is the biggest health threat facing humanity, the World Health Organization says, estimating that it will cause around a quarter of a million additional deaths each year in 2030-50. These will mainly be from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

However, climate change is already having more subtle effects on health and wellbeing. Spring is beginning earlier in many places, meaning there’s a higher pollen count. This is bad news for allergy sufferers. Higher temperatures in the United States made the pollen season 11-27 days longer between 1995 and 2011, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says.

Rising temperatures also contribute to worsening air quality, which can increase the risk and severity of asthma attacks.

Vulnerabilities and health risks of climate change.
Health risks are increasing because of climate change. Image: World Health Organization

2. Climate change is raising the cost of living

COVID-19 has received most of the blame for recent global supply chain problems, but climate change is also having an impact. When supply chains are shaken, this impacts the availability and cost of goods.

Freezing weather in Texas in February 2021 triggered the United States’ most severe energy blackout of all time, leading to shutdowns at three major semiconductor plants and adding to the global shortage of microchips.

The cost of living is also soaring because of the global surge in energy prices. While Russia’s war on Ukraine is driving much of this now, climate change is also a factor.

Companies face up to $120 billion in costs from environmental risks in their supply chains by 2026,” according to research published in 2021 by CDP, a nonprofit that runs the world's largest environmental disclosure system. This will include increased costs for raw materials, and because of regulatory changes such as carbon pricing as the world addresses environmental crises, the report says.

3. Warming oceans are threatening our way of life

Sea level rises could pose the biggest threat to global supply chains, potentially putting ports and coastal infrastructure out of action. Higher sea temperatures may also cause more severe storms in tropical parts of the world, posing a threat to life and infrastructure.

The sea is home to most of our biodiversity, and 3 billion people globally rely on it for their livelihoods, according to the UN. However, carbon emissions from human activity are causing ocean warming, acidification and oxygen loss, putting large numbers of marine-related jobs at risk, it says.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

4. People might have fewer babies

People are increasingly citing the climate crisis as a major reason why they may decide to have fewer or even no children. According to a study in the United States, a third of women said they will reduce their anticipated family size because of it.

Percentages of people who's fertility decisions have been impacted by climate change factors.
Climate change is impacting family planning decisions. Image: Modern Fertility

However a similar number of the more than 2,800 American women surveyed by said the issue has made them decide to have children sooner. The study says this is because it’s either made them focus more on what’s important to them or given them a sense of urgency.

5. Your property could become uninsurable

Insurance is something that nearly everyone has, but climate change poses a “systemic risk” to the sector, according to professional services company Grant Thornton.

Extreme weather events led to insured losses of $105 billion in 2021, the fourth-highest level since 1970, according to preliminary estimates by Swiss Re, one of the world's leading providers of reinsurance and insurance.

This not only potentially makes insurance more expensive for everyone, but it also means some assets could become uninsurable. One in 25 Australian homes could be uninsurable by 2030, according to the Climate Council.

6. Increased chance of another pandemic

Climate change makes new pandemics more likely, because as temperatures increase, wild animals will be forced to change habitats. This could lead to them living nearer to human populations, increasing the chances of a virus jumping between species and causing the next pandemic, according to a report published by the scientific journal Nature.

“Geographic range shifts” will mean mammals encounter each other for the first time, and in doing so will share thousands of viruses, the report says. Even keeping global warming under 2°C this century “will not reduce future viral sharing”, the scientists note.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about fighting pandemics?

The World Economic Forum is committed to helping limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to stave off catastrophe. It aims to work with leaders to increase climate commitments, collaborate with partners to develop private initiatives, and provide a platform for innovators to realize their ambition and contribute solutions.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Climate ActionNature and Biodiversity
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