Social, environmental and economic impacts

Social, environmental and economic impacts

What are social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change?

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response. The Stern  Review has assessed a wide range of evidence on the impacts of climate change and on the economic costs, and has used a number of different techniques to assess costs and risks. From all of these perspectives, the evidence gathered by the Review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.

Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world - access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms.

Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.

In contrast, the costs of action - reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change - can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year. The investment that takes place in the next 10-20 years will have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next. Our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.

So prompt and strong action is clearly warranted. Because climate change is a global problem, the response to it must be international. It must be based on a shared vision of long-term goals and agreement on frameworks that will accelerate action over the next decade, and it must build on mutually reinforcing approaches at national, regional and international level.

Key questions for this area

If you are teaching or studying the social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change, or are considering adding content about it to your unit, here are some key questions that you should be able to answer and/or consider:

  • What are the interactions and connections between social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change?
  • Is any area, i.e. environment, social or economic, more important to address as a priority?
  • How can developed and developing countries consider the long term impacts of dealing with climate change?

Useful resources

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, check out our resources for inspiration.

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