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Analysis: ‘Global’ warming varies greatly depending where you live

A woman quenches her thirst in Jaipur, India, during a severe heatwave in May 2016. Credit: PACIFIC PRESS / Alamy Stock Photo.

As part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the international community committed in 2015 to limit rising global temperatures to “well below” 2C by the end of the 21st century and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”.

However, these global temperature targets mask a lot of regional variation that occurs as the Earth warms. For example, land warms faster than oceans, high-latitude areas faster than the tropics, and inland areas faster than coastal regions.

Furthermore, global human population is concentrated in specific regions of the planet.

Here, Carbon Brief analyses how much warming people will actually experience where they live, both today and under future warming scenarios.

The warming experienced by people is typically higher than the global average warming. In a world where warming is limited to “well below” 2C about 14% of the population will still experience warming exceeding 2C. In the worst-case scenario of continued growth in emissions, about 44% of the population experiences warming over 5C – and 7% over 6C – in 2100.

Warming is not globally uniform

Different parts of the world respond in different ways to warming from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations. For example, ocean temperatures increase more slowly than land temperatures because the oceans lose more heat by evaporation and they have a larger heat capacity.

High-latitude regions – far north or south of the equator – warm faster than the global average due to positive feedbacks from the retreat of ice and snow. An increased transfer of heat from the tropics to the poles in a warmer world also enhances warming. This phenomenon of more rapidly warming high latitudes is known as polar amplification.

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