Toggle Nav

Witness to a Changing Planet

WWF Project Documents Climate Change Impacts on Everyday People

Washington D.C. – A new tool from WWF allows people around the world to document first-hand the impacts of climate change on their communities and livelihoods, from melting glacial lakes in the Himalayas threatening to flood Sherpa villages to rising sea levels in the Pacific putting fishermen out of business. Through the Climate Witness Program, WWF collects testimony from citizens in vulnerable areas, verifies it with leading climate scientists and then shares it with the world.

“Climate change is still viewed by some as an abstract and distant threat,” said Dr. Lara Hansen, WWF’s Chief Climate Scientist. “But these witnesses provide compelling personal stories of how changes in the climate take their toll on daily living around the world. Fishermen, farmers, young and old people -- they are all seeing changes for which they are unprepared."

Climate Witnesses send their stories to WWF through the internet or by mail. They are reviewed by a member of the 100-member Science Advisory Panel to determine if the impacts reported by witnesses are consistent with known trends and scientific knowledge about climate change in that particular region. The witness testimonies are then posted online, along with comments from the scientists. Climate Witnesses have also told their stories in videos, documentaries and news reports.

“Low stream flows and increased water temperatures have become a double-whammy for the trout fisherman and I've had to reposition the way that I guide,” said Van Beacham, a Climate Witness and professional fly fishing guide in southern Colorado and south-west Wyoming. “I let my clients know that we're partly responsible for the warming of the globe. Before, many of them did not believe that humans have a role in climate change, but now folks are starting to understand this relationship and are seeing the big picture.”

Farmer Shitanath Sarkar and his large family lead a precarious existence in India’s Sundarbans delta, the world's largest delta. As storms and flooding get worse, he wonders what has caused “nature's fury” and worries about the future of his community.

“The Sundarbans are my home. I've lived here since I was a child. Now I'm 65 and things have gone from bad to worse. Inch by inch, my single hectare of land gradually disappeared in front of my eyes. I fear one day our whole village will perish under the waters,” Sarkar said.

Climate research now indicates that warming is likely to be most dramatic in winter in northern regions and summer in the Southwest. Minimum winter temperatures are likely to increase more than the average in northern North America. Maximum summer temperatures are likely to increase more than the average in the Southwest. 

Since the 1940s, temperatures in western North America have increased by 1-2°Centigrade, primarily during the winter and spring months. While shifts in temperature can be the result of natural cycles of climate variability in the western region of the US, scientists have determined that the scope of these changes goes well beyond natural cycles. 

The most recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts climate change will negatively impact coastal areas, where sea levels could rise by more than half a meter by 2100 and sea surface temperatures could rise by as much as 3°C, creating a greater risk of extreme weather patterns and damaging wildlife, habitats and property.

“Climate Witness is a simple but effective tool telling us that we all stand to lose as climate change takes its toll,” added Hansen.

More information on the WWF Climate Witness Program