AI analysis of 100,000 climate change studies reveals how big the problem already is

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A giant piece of Ice breaks off the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina
Climate change: a giant piece of Ice breaks off the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina. (Getty)

New AI analysis of 100,000 previous scientific studies has revealed the true scale of the climate change problem facing Earth.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, shows scientific evidence that climate impacts are affecting at least 85% of the world population in 80% of the world’s land area.

The researchers, from the MCC climate think-tank and Climate Analytics, used machine learning to analyse 100,000 empirical studies with data on temperature changes to create a global picture of how climate change is affecting us all

Lead author Max Callaghan, postdoctoral researcher in the MCC working group Applied Sustainability Science, said: "Our study leaves no doubt that the climate crisis is already being felt almost everywhere in the world. It is also extensively scientifically documented.

Watch: Which countries release the most CO2?

"Our world map of climate impacts provides guidance for the global fight against global heating, for regional and local risk assessments and also for on-the-ground action on climate adaptation."

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The researchers say a lack of papers and data from low-income countries makes it harder to understand climate impacts in these areas.

This is despite the fact that 23% of the population of low income countries live in areas with low impact evidence.

Shruti Nath, contributing author and researcher at Climate Analytics, said: "Developing countries are at the forefront of climate impacts, but we can see in our study there are real blind spots when it comes to climate impact data. 

“Most of the areas where we are not able to connect the dots attribution-wise are in Africa.

“This has real implications for adaptation planning and access to funding in these places.”

Read more: A 1988 warning about climate change was mostly right

The study aims to pioneer new ways to deal with the sheer amount of data on climate change. 

Since the first assessment report from the UN's IPCC in 1990 the number of studies on climate impacts has increased by more than 100 times.

This summer, climate researchers said the "heat dome" affecting America was "virtually impossible" without human-induced climate change. 

Researchers working on the IPCC climate report this year said weather events this year show the effect of climate change are already here. 

Paulo Artaxo, a lead author of the report and an environmental physicist at the University of Sao Paulo, said: "The heat wave in Canada, fires in California, floods in Germany, floods in China, droughts in central Brazil make it very, very clear that climate extremes are having a very heavy toll."

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

The report found that nearly all of the current rises in temperature can be attributed to human influence. 

The IPCC found that the effect of human activity had raised temperatures by around 1.1C above the average in the 19th century – and the contribution of the sun and volcanoes is almost zero.

The report warns that there is only a 50% chance of staying below the 1.5C threshold called for by the 2015 Paris agreement if emissions remain below 500 billion tons from 2020 onwards. 

Helen Mountford, vice president of climate and economics at the World Resources Institute, said: “Our opportunity to avoid even more catastrophic impacts has an expiration date. 

"The report implies that this decade is truly our last chance to take the actions necessary to limit temperature rise to 1.5C. 

"If we collectively fail to rapidly curb greenhouse gas emissions in the 2020s, that goal will slip out of reach.”

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