Fact Sheet: The Impacts of Weather and Climate Change

Climate change can lead to a host of environmental, health, and economic problems. The following examples demonstrate the impacts of recent weather and climate extremes. Although it is impossible to precisely link individual catastrophes to global warming, the frequency and intensity of these kinds of events is projected to increase as the world warms.

  • A heat wave that hit Europe in August 2003 led to as many as 15,000 deaths, mostly among the elderly, in France alone, where temperatures hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

  • Germany received as much rain as it normally gets in a year in less than two days in August 2002. The August floods in Europe killed at least 108 people and forced 450,000 to evacuate. Total economic losses were estimated at $18.5 billion.

  • Weather-related disasters including floods, droughts, and windstorms are growing in frequency and intensity. Since 1980, 10,867 weather-related disasters have caused more than 575,000 deaths and have forced many more people to flee their homes. Since 1980, the cost of weather-related disasters has totaled more than $1 trillion.

  • In 2002, economic losses to homes, businesses, and crops from weather disasters approached $53 billion worldwide, a 93-percent increase over 2001 losses.

  • By 2050, mega-catastrophes, which used to appear every 100 years, are predicted to occur every 25. In the United States alone, the number of weather disasters has increased five-fold over the past three decades. With these losses, insurance costs are expected to skyrocket; some insurance experts expect some single "worst case" disasters could exceed $100 billion

  • Some 20 percent of the increase in water scarcity in the coming decades will be caused by climate change according to recent estimates. In poor countries, the consequences of climate change could be dire—erratic weather patterns have already been the primary cause of famine for millions around the world.

  • Diseases tend to spread in warmer, wetter climates, and some experts predict a return of malaria by 2050 to Brazil, the southern United States, western China, and regions across Central Asia due to climate change. West Nile virus, another mosquito borne disease, has spread rapidly across North America over the past three years, killing birds and mammals as well as human beings.

  • Small island nations are at risk of inundation due to climate induced sea-level rise. The Maldives, an island country in the Indian Ocean where 65 percent of the land is less than 1 meter above sea level, has already evacuated residents from four of the lowest lying islands over the past few years.