7 unexpected side-effects of climate change

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ian Shine, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Climate change is having some unexpected effects around the world.
  • It is impacting everything from the sex and size of animals to the state of wine and coffee crops.
  • It’s also making flights a lot bumpier and lightning strikes more frequent.

Sex-changing lizards, shrinking goats and the worsening quality of wine were not top of the agenda at COP27, but as the consequences of climate change become more severe, we’re likely to see some unusual effects.

Here are seven unexpected things that climate change is doing to our world:

1. Sex-changing lizards

The bearded dragon is a lizard that is native to Australia. As with some other reptiles, the sex of its embryos is affected by temperature. When it gets warmer, bearded dragon babies are more likely to be female, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

Eggs with male sex chromosomes end up developing as female if incubated in a nest at a temperature of 32C or higher, says The Guardian.

This is creating concern among scientists that the males could become increasingly rare as temperatures keep rising, leaving the entire species at risk of extinction. So-called temperature-dependent sex determination also effects all crocodiles, most turtles and many fish.

2. Shrinking goats

Warmer temperatures don’t make male goats become female, but they are making goats living in the Italian Alps smaller. The Alpine Chamois mountain goat now weighs an average of 25% less than in the 1980s, reports Science Daily.

Warm-blooded animals may lose body weight because higher temperatures mean they no longer need as much flesh to keep them warm, Bloomberg notes.

Why does this matter? It could have an impact on other natural systems, as smaller goats will need less food, and they could in general spend more time resting and less time foraging to try and avoid overheating, National Geographic points out. Goat populations may also change, as lighter goats are more likely to freeze to death in cold winters.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

Biodiversity loss and climate change are occurring at unprecedented rates, threatening humanity’s very survival. Nature is in crisis, but there is hope. Investing in nature can not only increase our resilience to socioeconomic and environmental shocks, but it can help societies thrive.

There is strong recognition within the Forum that the future must be net-zero and nature-positive. The Nature Action Agenda initiative, within the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions, is an inclusive, multistakeholder movement catalysing economic action to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

Dynamic and flourishing natural ecosystems are the foundation for human wellbeing and prosperity. The Future of Nature and Business report found that nature-positive transitions in key sectors are good for the economy and could generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

To support these transitions, the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions has convened a community of Champions for Nature promoting the sustainable management of the planet for the good of the economy and society. The Nature Action Agenda also recently launched the 100 Million Farmers initiative, which will drive the transition of the food and agriculture system towards a regenerative model, as well as the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative to create an urban development model that is in harmony with nature.

Get in touch if you would like to collaborate on these efforts or join one of our communities.

3. Worse wine

Any wine lover knows that grapes are highly sensitive to temperature changes. They can rot or fail to ripen if the conditions aren’t right, and this is why bottles from some years taste better – and are more highly valued – than production from other years.

Wildfires have already destroyed vineyards in areas from Spain to California’s famous Napa Valley. But even when the grapes survive the heat, the way they taste is changing. “Wine quality … boils down to achieving balance between three broad aspects of berries: sugar, acid and secondary compounds,” a BBC report says. “At warmer temperatures, ripening is supercharged, leading to sweet, raisin-like flavour in grapes.”

This can also increase the alcohol content of the resulting wine, leading to a burning taste and reducing the subtlety of the flavours and aromas. Climate change means there could even be a 73% reduction in worldwide areas suitable for growing wine by 2050, US science journal PNAS says.

4. Much less coffee

The world’s coffee and wine belts sit at totally different latitudes and do not overlap, but coffee crops are also being affected by climate change. Farmers in Brazil, the world’s biggest coffee exporter, have faced substantially lower yields of Arabica beans this year because of frosts and droughts, says Bloomberg.

A study published in the journal PLOS One models growing conditions for coffee, cashews and avocados over the next 30 years and found coffee to be “the most vulnerable, with negative climate impacts dominating in all main producing regions”.

It says there could be a 50% drop in the number of areas most highly suited to growing coffee by 2050, and a 31-41% decrease in areas that are moderately suitable.

Coffee grows best in areas where temperatures are stable day and night, as well as throughout the year. This means changing climate conditions could not only lead to coffee shortages, but also threaten the incomes of millions of people – mainly in developing countries.

Discover

How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate accelerates action on climate change and environmental sustainability, food systems, the circular economy and value chains, and the future of international development.

  • Through the Global Plastic Action Partnership, the Forum is bringing together government, business and civil society to shape a more sustainable world by eradicating plastic pollution.
  • Global companies are collaborating through the Forum’s 1t.org initiative to support 1 trillion trees by 2030, with over 30 companies having already committed to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.6 billion trees in over 60 countries.
  • Through a partnership with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and over 50 global businesses, the Forum is encouraging companies to join the First Movers Coalition and invest in innovative green technologies to enable net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • The Forum is bringing global leaders together to reduce the environmental impact of value chains and make the $4.5 trillion circular economy opportunity a reality. The African Circular Economy Alliance is funding circular economy entrepreneurs and circular economy activities in Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa, while the Circular Electronics in China project is helping companies reduce and recycle 50% of e-waste by 2025.
  • Since launching in 2020, the Forum’s open innovation platform UpLink has welcomed over 40,000 users who are working on more than 30 challenges crowdsourcing solutions to the climate crisis.
  • More than 1000 partners from the private sector, government and civil society are working together through the 2030 Water Resources Group to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. The group has facilitated close to $1 billion of financing for water-related programmes.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

5. Bumpier plane trips

Air circulation patterns are becoming less predictable because of climate change, leading to much bumpier flights – so much so that turbulence has become the most common cause of airline accidents, the US National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Bruce Landsberg told Bloomberg last year.

More than 65% of severe injuries on aeroplanes recorded by US accident investigators in 2017-20 were a result of planes entering choppy skies.

Discover

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

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

Air patterns are becoming less predictable because of a rise in “clear-air turbulence”, the occurrence of which is expected to increase two or three times in the coming decades. Clear-air turbulence is caused by erratic air currents. As the name suggests, it occurs in clear air, rather than in clouds, making it harder to detect by eye, or even with radar equipment, aviation news website Simple Flying says.

Flight crew had no warnings ahead of 28% of turbulence-related accidents between 2009 and 2018, according to the NTSB. “We have flight attendants who have been thrown into the ceiling and then back down several times, resulting in broken limbs,” US Association of Flight Attendants President, Sara Nelson, told CNN Travel. “In the aisle, with unannounced turbulence, we had people who lost toes, or lost the ability to work, or sustained injuries that kept them off the job for years.”

6. More lightning

Lightning strikes hit the Earth around 8 million times a day, but that number could rise significantly as global warming accelerates. One study has estimated that each 1C of warming could lead to a 12% rise in lightning strikes.

“Climate change is making the air warmer, which allows it to hold more moisture, and both of those factors can boost the chance of thunderstorms,” the website Inside Climate News says.

This means damage from lightning is likely to increase. The potential effects include more forest fires, as lightning can cause fires among dry vegetation, and extensive damage to electrical equipment and power grids.

There was a near doubling in the number of lightning strikes in the high Arctic in 2021, reports The Guardian.

7. Volcanoes erupting

Many glaciers cover the sides of active volcanoes. As these glaciers melt, the reduction in pressure on the Earth’s surface could alter the movement of volcanic magma and lead to more eruptions.

Scientists who have compared historic volcanic records with glacial coverage saw that the number of eruptions fell significantly as the climate cooled and ice levels expanded.

More studies are underway to improve the understanding of the links between glaciers and volcanic activity. But even away from colder regions, shifting weather patterns are potentially triggering eruptions.

A December 2021 eruption at one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes was caused by several days of heavy rain destabilizing the dome of lava in the volcano’s summit crater, according to local authorities. “This led to the dome collapsing, which reduced pressure on the magma below and triggered an eruption,” according to PreventionWeb, a knowledge-sharing platform for disaster risk reduction and resilience.

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