Factsheet – climate change

The causes and mechanisms of climate change are known to scientists and well described. Check the most important facts.


While natural processes and events (such as inter-glacial cycles, El Niño, or volcanic eruptions) play a role in climate change, the established science and data shows that post-industrial human activities have had the greatest impacts on our climate by far. When we talk about climate change, therefore, what is really being referred to is anthropogenic climate change, which is driven by humanity’s increased use of fossil fuels, deforestation, and increasingly intensive agriculture – exacerbated through economic and population growth.


Anthropogenic climate change is chiefly caused by global warming. The mechanism for global Warming is commonly referred to as the Greenhouse Gas Effect, where Greenhouse Gases (GHG) trap heat within the earth’s atmosphere and prevent it from escaping into space.
The key GHG’s are Carbon Dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Fluorinated gases, and (although often overlooked) water vapour.

Key Facts & Figures

  • Human activities are estimated to be responsible for between 0.8°C to 1.2°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels.
  • Atmospheric GHG concentration is at a level unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
  • Continued emission of GHGs will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the risks of severe and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.
  • By 2050—without adaptation—the losses from coastal flooding globally are projected to rise to $US1 trillion per year.
  • By 2050, on average, between $2.8 trillion and $4.7 trillion of GDP in Asia annually will be at risk from a loss of outdoor working hours because of increased heat and humidity.

Atmospheric CO2 is on the rise…

Atmospheric CO2 (1960 – 2020)
Atmospheric CO2 (1960 – 2020)

Graph showing mean carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. The carbon dioxide data on Mauna Loa constitutes the longest record of direct measurements of atmospheric CO2.

…and so is global temperature

Global Surface temperatures (1880-2020)
Global Surface temperatures (1880-2020)

Graph showing average annual global temperatures since 1880 compared to a baseline long-term average (1901-2000). Zero line: long-term average temperature for the whole planet. Blue and red bars show difference from baseline average.

The threat is growing – quickly

  • Scientific models of impacts have underestimated the speed and severity of the impacts from climate change.
  • The yearly World Economic Forum Risk Reports show that climate-related threats have quickly grown in prominence. Presenting the top 5 risks in terms of likelihood and the top 5 in terms of impact, the reports show that climate risks occupied 1 spot in 2012, and 8 spots in 2020 (of the total 10).

The stakes are high

  • Economic stress and damage from natural disasters totalled USD 165 billion in 2018, half of which was uninsured.
  • By 2030, global warming is projected to reduce total working hours worldwide by 2.2%, and global GDP by USD 2.4 trillion.
  • Potential financial losses from climate impacts are estimated to fall anywhere between USD 4.2 – 43 trillion by the year 2100
  • Climate change is already a factor in more than 150 000 deaths annually, and could create 143 million migrants by 2050.

Stakeholders are demanding action

  • Two-thirds of European CFOs surveyed feel pressure from shareholders and investors to act on climate change.
  • Fifty-seven percent of executives say their organization is facing significant pressure from investors to report on climate-related risk and management.
  • More than 500 investors globally, (collectively managing more than US$47 trillion in assets), have signed the Climate Action 100+ initiative that aims to ensure large corporate GHG emitters take action on climate.

The text is an expert study of publicly available materials for non-executive directors from sectors other than financial services.