Toggle Nav

Effects of Climate Change


turtle hatchling

Climate change has an impact on turtle nesting sites. It alters sand temperatures, which then affects the sex of hatchlings.

Sea levels are rising and oceans are becoming warmer. Longer, more intense droughts threaten crops, wildlife and freshwater supplies. From polar bears in the Arctic to marine turtles off the coast of Africa, our planet’s diversity of life is at risk from the changing climate.

Climate change poses a fundamental threat to the places, species and people’s livelihoods WWF works to protect. To adequately address this crisis we must urgently reduce carbon pollution and prepare for the consequences of global warming, which we are already experiencing. WWF works to:

  • advance policies to fight climate change
  • engage with businesses to reduce carbon emissions
  • help people and nature adapt to a changing climate

2020: A critical year for our future and for the climate

There is still a gap between what countries pledged to do in the Paris Agreement and what scientists say is needed to avert climate catastrophe. To address this, countries set five-year milestones to take stock of progress and strengthen commitments with the first of these opportunities coming in 2020.

Aftermath of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina


Clearing forests, such as in the National Forest of Bom Futuro, Rondônia, Brazil, adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Clearing forests, such as in the National Forest of Bom Futuro, Rondônia, Brazil, adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Greenhouses gases, such as carbon dioxide, trap heat in the atmosphere and regulate our climate. These gases exist naturally, but humans add more carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels for energy (coal, oil, and natural gas) and by clearing forests. Greenhouse gases act like a blanket. The thicker the blanket, the warmer our planet becomes. At the same time, the Earth’s oceans are also absorbing some of this extra carbon dioxide, making them more acidic and less hospitable for sea life.

The increase in global temperature is significantly altering our planet’s climate, resulting in more extreme and unpredictable weather. For instance, heat waves are becoming more frequent and many places are experiencing record droughts followed by intense rainfalls.


Forests help protect the planet by absorbing massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant type of pollution that causes climate change. Unfortunately, forests are currently being destroyed or damaged at an alarming rate. Logging and clearing land for agriculture or livestock release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It also diminishes those regions’ ability to absorb carbon pollution.


Scientists estimate up to 13 percent of global carbon emissions come from deforestation – greater than emissions from every car, truck and plane on the planet combined.

Scientists Agree, Humans Cause Climate Change

Burning coal releases 70% more carbon dioxide than natural gas. Coal plant, Taiyuan, China.

Burning coal releases 70% more carbon dioxide than natural gas. Coal plant, Taiyuan, China.

Scientists in the United States and the world have reached an overwhelming consensus that climate change is real and caused primarily by human activity. Respected scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and World Meteorological Association (WMO) have all identified climate change as an urgent threat caused by humans that must be addressed.

“The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable.”

— National Academy of Science

Fossil Fuels

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, to generate energy has the greatest impact on the atmosphere than any other single human activity. Globally, power generation is responsible for about 23 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year – in excess of 700 tonnes every second. Coal is especially damaging to our atmosphere, releasing 70% more carbon dioxide than natural gas for every unit of energy produced.


Climate Change 7

Humans and wild animals face new challenges for survival because of climate change. More frequent and intense drought, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans can directly harm animals, destroy the places they live, and wreak havoc on people’s livelihoods and communities.

U.S. Cities at Risk
As climate change worsens, dangerous weather events are becoming more frequent or severe. People in cities and towns around the United States are facing the consequences, from heat waves and wildfires to coastal storms and flooding.

What WWF Is Doing

To adequately address the climate crisis we must urgently reduce carbon pollution and prepare for the consequences of global warming, which the world is already experiencing. Combining global outreach with local expertise, WWF:

  • helps people and nature adapt to a changing climate
  • advances policies to fight climate change
  • combats deforestation
  • engages with businesses to reduce carbon emissions
  • challenges U.S. cities to prepare for more extreme weather

Challenging Cities to Prepare

As climate change worsens, dangerous weather events are becoming more frequent or severe in the United States and around the globe. WWF is challenging cities to transition toward 100 percent renewable energy and address local climate threats by implementing practical measures that improve air quality, protect water supplies and reduce urban flooding. With your help, your community can take action too. Urge your mayor to take action on climate change by joining the Earth Hour City Challenge!


Adapting to Climate Change

To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we need to dramatically reduce global carbon emissions. But we must also prepare for the significant and unavoidable consequences of carbon emissions such as increasing temperatures, shifting precipitaton patterns, ocean acidification, sea level rise and the increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. WWF works with local communities, governments and others around the world to help nature and people prepare for the many impacts of a changing climate. To do this we:

  • Increase resilience of communities in Nepal by promoting new farming techniques, community weather monitoring and creating seed banks
  • Restore beach vegetation to shade marine turtle nests in the Caribbean
  • Secure access to fresh water for elephants in Thailand during periods of drought
  • Identify areas where polar bears can live on solid Arctic sea ice for decades to come

Protecting Forests

Forests are home to many of the world’s most endangered wildlife. They also protect the planet by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2), a major source of pollution that causes climate change. WWF fights climate change by saving forests. To do this we:

  • Ensure that global climate change agreements reduce forest destruction and degradation and protect wildlife
  • Work directly with countries, especially developing ones, to protect forests and benefit the livelihoods of local communities
  • Use satellite images and aerial mapping technologies to track illegal logging
  • Study the vulnerability of forests to climate change and explore ways to help them adapt

Influencing Policy

Government must play a central role to tackle the climate crisis. WWF is an advocate at all levels of government. In the United States, WWF works to advance policies that reduce carbon pollution, support clean energy technologies, prepare for the effects of climate change, and curb deforestation. At international negotiations, WWF encourages the United States to play a constructive role in developing global climate agreements that:

  • Substantially reduce carbon pollution to avoid the worst consequences of climate change
  • Provide financial support to developing countries so people and nature can successfully adapt
  • Combat forest destruction and protect wildlife that live there
  • Help transition developing countries to clean energy sources like wind and solar

Engaging Business

Businesses have a responsibility to reduce their contribution to climate change. WWF works in partnership with companies as part of WWF’s Climate Savers Program to set and meet goals to reduce carbon emissions, advance projects to protect their resources from climate impacts, and ensure the sustainability of their core business.


  • Conserving Snow Leopards, Securing Water Resources, and Benefiting Communities

    In October 2012, WWF began a four-year project to conserve snow leopard habitat, promote water security, and help communities prepare for climate change impacts in Central Asia. The USAID-funded, $7.3 million Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities project will conduct field activities in and build alliances among six of the snow leopard’s 12 range countries: Bhutan, India, Nepal, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Pakistan. The project will run through September 30, 2016.

  • The 3% Solution

    A report from WWF and CDP—The 3% Solution: Driving Profits Through Carbon Reductions—helps U.S. businesses chart a new path forward. This path is tremendously profitable, practical and helps curb climate change.

View More Projects