The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is out, and since the 3,675 pages of scientific jargon can be a lot to wade through, we summarized some key takeaways for North America.

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, who co-chaired the group of scientists responsible for the latest report.

Overall impacts

Accelerating climate change hazards have already adversely affected the wellbeing of the human population. Even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, human life and livelihoods across North America will be placed at risk from sea level rise, severe storms and hurricanes.

Without limiting global warming to 1.5°C, risks to North America are expected to intensify rapidly within just 20-30 years.

Cities and Settlements

North American cities have been affected by more severe and more frequent climate-induced extreme events contributing to infrastructure loss, safety concerns and loss of livelihoods. Impacts have been most severe for Indigenous Peoples, whose wellbeing is most closely connected to a resilient environment.

Flooding will become a dominant risk to urban centers, displacing people and disrupting transportation. Large wildfires will increasingly endanger lives, property, mental health and physical health due to air quality degradation and water contamination.

Extreme events and climate hazards are already affecting economic activity, and impacts to the supply chain and trade will only increase.

Health

Climate change has negatively affected human health and wellbeing in North America, including but not limited to increasing heat-related mortality. The impacts are unevenly spread among different age groups, geographic areas and socioeconomic statuses.

Food

Declines in food and agricultural production are a risk to food and nutritional security. Climate change is shifting growing zones and fishery areas, and intensifying production losses of key crops.

Water

Intensified droughts and lower winter snowpack melting sooner will increase water scarcity, especially in the western U.S. and northern Mexico. This will mean increasing water security risks.

Water scarcity will peak during summer months due to peak water demand, irrigated agriculture and warmer temperatures increasing evaporation. Regions will need to rely more on limited groundwater supplies to substitute for diminishing surface water.

Ecosystems

Warmer air, water and ground temperatures have forced redistribution of plants, fish, birds and mammals, especially in Arctic areas. Mortality has increased among these species.

Barriers to climate action

Despite scientific certainty of the manmade influence on climate change, misinformation and politicization of the topic has created polarization in public and policy domains, limiting climate action.

Vested interests undermine climate science and disregard risk and urgency. As a result, public misperception of climate risks and split support for action is delaying urgent steps that are needed to adapt and prevent further warming.

What can we do?

Immediate, widespread and coordinated implementation of adaptation measures and emissions reductions have the greatest potential to limit further impacts and preserve quality of life for North Americans.