The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.

Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.

Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.

Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gasses produced by human activities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

According to the IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change.

The IPCC predicts that increases in global mean temperature of less than 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 3 degrees Celsius) above 1990 levels will produce beneficial impacts in some regions and harmful ones in others. Net annual costs will increase over time as global temperatures increase.

"Taken as a whole," the IPCC states, "the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time." 1

Below are some of the impacts that are currently visible throughout the U.S. and will continue to affect these regions, according to the Third National Climate Assessment Report 2, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program:

Northeast. Heat waves, heavy downpours, and sea level rise pose growing challenges to many aspects of life in the Northeast. Infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries, and ecosystems will be increasingly compromised. Many states and cities are beginning to incorporate climate change into their planning.

Northwest. Changes in the timing of streamflow reduce water supplies for competing demands. Sea level rise, erosion, inundation, risks to infrastructure, and increasing ocean acidity pose major threats. Increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are causing widespread tree die-off.

Southeast. Sea level rise poses widespread and continuing threats to the region’s economy and environment. Extreme heat will affect health, energy, agriculture, and more. Decreased water availability will have economic and environmental impacts.

Midwest. Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.

Southwest. Increased heat, drought, and insect outbreaks, all linked to climate change, have increased wildfires. Declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, health impacts in cities due to heat, and flooding and erosion in coastal areas are additional concerns.

  1. IPCC 2007, Summary for Policymakers, in Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, p. 17.
  2. USGCRP 2014, Third Climate Assessment.