This is what climate breakdown looks like for people around the world

Our climate is breaking down. Rising temperatures threaten our livelihoods, water, food and health. These photos show how high the stakes are.


Climate change is here, and its effects are harming people around the world every day. Human beings and everything we built are seriously under threat from a destabilised climate. 

The facts are clear: as the world continues to pollute, the planet will warm. And no matter where you are, each fraction of a degree matters.

Here are some striking images from around the world that demonstrate humanity’s relationship with a changing climate. 

Melting ice

As temperatures rise, ice-capped mountain ranges are losing thousand year-old glaciers, and both poles are seeing whole landscapes reshaped by melting ice.

Climate change is warming the Arctic faster than anywhere in the world, breaking icebergs away from larger ice sheets.

While some Arctic communities are losing losing homelands and hunting grounds to the sea, there are other, more subtle effects on the people who call the pole home. 

For example, when icebergs drift away they can drag fishing nets with them – costing fishermen money and endangering wildlife on the seabed.–

A person in jeans and a puffer jacket carrying an oar, at the front of a small boat, pushing an iceberg that's so big the top is out of shot, in a pale-blue icy seascape

Greenland 2017 Ð Qeqertaq Arnatassiaq and Niels Molgard push an iceberg with their powerful little boat so that it doesn't drag down their fishing nets. Turpin Samuel / Climate Visuals Countdown

Glaciers aren’t faring much better in a warming world. Two thirds of glaciers in High-mountain Asia are projected to be gone by the end of the century. This is a huge problem for areas that rely on them for water – the glaciers in China supply 1.5 billion people.

Scientists in the Himalayas have come up with an innovative solution to this problem – artificial glaciers.

The meltwater from real glaciers is brought down by gravity pipes and sprayed by a sprinkler. The sub-zero cold temperatures makes it ice-cold again, allowing it to then form into the shape of a “stupa” – a Buddhist temple mound.


An early prototype of artificial glacier, named Ice Stupa - the device appears like a sculpture, with long lines of icicles rising up to a central pole. Beneath this large clusters of ice form in unusual shapes, some spirals of ice, others large clumps of ice with thick icicles dripping down.

Ladkah Region, India, 2017. This photograph shows one of the early prototypes of an artificial glacier, called Ice Stupa, that were built by the scientist Sonam Wangchuk and his team back in the winters of January 2017. Ankit tanwar / Climate Visuals Countdown

The idea of these human-made glaciers is to bring water to lower areas where it can be stored in ice form as it does not melt as fast as an actual glacier.

Melting glaciers and icebergs often capture the headlines. But there is another, arguably more disastrous impact from rising temperatures on the coldest parts of our planet – melting permafrost.

Permafrost is frozen ground in the northern regions of the world, made of soil, rocks and sand held together by ice that stays frozen all year round. Melting permafrost warps whatever lies on top of it – roads, homes, pipelines. In the Russian Arctic, no town is unaffected.

Two people walk along a snowy street in front of a large apartment building. The building's paint is fading, panels are cracked, and is covered in graffiti.

Yakutsk, Siberia 2018 People walk in front of a cracked panel apartment building in the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images

In Yakutsk, many buildings are made up of concrete panels and stand on stilts which ensure ventilation and prevent it from warming the ground underneath. But the buildings end up cracking, and sinking into the wet soil and sand.

With this region warming much faster than the global average, melting permafrost poses numerous threats to the whole planet – by releasing methane (a climate-wrecking greenhouse gas) and even releasing long-dormant diseases.

Wild water

All this ice melting on land brings rising sea levels, often affecting places with low-lying coastlines thousands of miles away. However, nowhere is more strikingly impacted than the world’s largest river delta – the Ganges Delta.

The Ganges river winds through the Himalayas, joining with other rivers from Nepal, India Tibet and Bhutan and ending in India’s state of West Bengal and Bangladesh. The delta itself is a densely populated area, supporting the lives of 300 million people. 

A person wearing traditional sari stands on a rock, surrounded on all sides by rising dirty sea water. The waves of brown water break against a small hut to the left.

Mousini Island, West Bengal, India 2016. In the Ganges Delta, hundreds of millions of people are staring at a bleak future where the probability of them becoming climate refugees looms large. Arka Dutta/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Regular cyclones, worsened by sea level rise, destroy coastlines in this region. People are forced to leave their homes and farms and migrate to cities further inland, such as Dhaka – already the world’s most densely-populated city.

Innovations in ways of living are helping people deal with the uncertainties climate change brings. Boat schools, and other services in the disaster-prone areas, allow access to education and other services in the changing climate.

A group of school children and their teacher stand together outside of a small boat with a wicker roof on the banks of a river.

Bangladesh 2016 Horondarpur Boat School, Horondarpur, B L Bari Faridpur, Pabna., Bangladesh. Abir Abdullah / Climate Visuals Countdown

Another region badly affected by sea level rise is the Pacific Island Countries

These countries, many of which are made up of multiple islands spanning huge areas of the Pacific, are home to unique and diverse cultures. Vanuatu, for example, is the most linguistically diverse country on Earth for its size, with 145 languages spoken by less than 300,000 people. 

Deeply held cultural and spiritual connections mean relocating is out of the question for many people from Pacific Island Countries. But some nations’ governments are beginning to make plans for temporary emigrations or relocations to higher land on nearby islands. 

A concrete seawall down the centre of the image, with the ocean to the left and tropical palm trees to the right. A person stands on the seawall, looking out at the sea. Behind the wall is some debris.

Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands 2018. A woman stands on a seawall. © Genevieve French / Greenpeace

For Marshall Islands atolls like Majuro, the key culprits are storm surges and ultra-high “king tides”, which are natural but made much worse by climate change’s impact on sea levels.

After a king tide, many houses are damaged severely by flooding and coastal erosion, despite sea walls built to protect them. Families must abandon their homes and look to build anew or stay with other family members. Sea water saturates land, affecting crops and water supplies. This is happening across the Marshall Islands and other Pacific Island Countries.

Relocation isn’t a new idea in this part of the world. In the twentieth century, Marshallese were moved off their islands because of nuclear testing – including by evacuation by Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in 1985, just before the ship was bombed by French secret services.

To compound tragedy on top of tragedy, some of those “resettlement” islands themselves may soon become uninhabitable because of rising sea levels.

A small house made of wooden planks, completely surrounded by water in flooded fields. A person walks along a flooded path towards the house in the dark, the porch light illuminating them.

Java, Indonesia. Java 2021. A house in a former farming area which until 2008 was completely surrounded by rice fields and is now inundated with 1-1.5 meters of seawater on May 28, 2021 in Pekalongan. Ed Wray/Getty Images

In many places around the world – including the Thames in London – governments have built barriers like sea walls to hold back the tides. One of the most extraordinary examples of this is Jakarta, where the government has built nearly 20 kilometres of sea walls in the last three years to stop the city from sinking.

But some parts of the country aren’t so lucky. Although the government has built parts of a seawall in Java, over reliance on groundwater for agriculture and industry has meant former farmlands are sinking into the sea. 

Pekalongan, a city in central Java, has been experiencing such rapid subsidence rates that by 2035, as much as 90 percent of the city could be inundated with sea water.

Two volunteers carry two children on their shoulders through moving flood waters. The murky water rises as high as the adult's torsos. Behind them more people can be seen, one looking out from a house made of sheet metal and wooden boards.

South Kalimantan 2021 Volunteers evacuate children affected by the floods in Sungai Raya Village, Banjar Regency, South Kalimantan. © Putra / Greenpeace

In South Kalimantan, heavy rainfall and massive land clearing for palm oil and coal mining caused severe flooding in 2021, water levels rose up to two meters, inundating hundreds of houses and forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes and find shelter on higher ground.

Efforts are afoot to restore Indonesia’s coastal regions with more natural protective barriers. Mangrove tree forest on threatened coastlines not only create and support thriving coastal ecosystems, but offer protection from erosion and tsunami waves.

A group of people planting mangrove tree saplings in knee-length water. In the centre the green shoot of one sapling can be seen rising from the sand, above the water into the blue sky.

Central Sulawesi 2021. Volunteers plant mangrove tree seedlings in a mangrove conservation area on Dupa Beach, Palu, Central Sulawesi Province. Basri Marzuki/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Flooding isn’t restricted to parts of the world with low-lying coastlines. Flooding is also the result of heavy rains swelling rivers which then burst their banks. This is starting to happen with frightening regularity here in the UK, too.

A person wearing fishing trousers standing in front of a red brick house, with dark flood water up to their knees.

Fishlake Village, South Yorkshire 2019 Wayne Howsam in front of his front door in Fishlake village. A major evacuation effort was launched in the village of Fishlake after the River Don burst its banks and flooded much of the surrounding area. © Gideon Mendel / Greenpeace

Over the last few years, families and businesses are reporting that they are barely able to recover their homes and premises from a flood before another one hits. 

Despite the clear impacts on communities across the UK, developers are still proposing building houses on flood plainsincluding a “new town” just over one mile from Fishlake, pictured above.

Heat and fire

In South Africa, Cape Town faced an extreme water crisis between 2017 and 2018 thanks to drought. The term “Day Zero” was coined – for when the water supply to the city effectively ran out.

Diminishing water supplies have led city officials to warn residents of a “Day Zero” scenario when they have to turn off the taps to the four million inhabitants.

There were huge disruptions to daily life for people. Taps were turned off and hand sanitiser pumps were installed across the city’s washrooms. Capetonians learned to keep their used shower water for flushing toilets. 

A person walks along the floor of a drained swimming pool, towards the deep end where a small puddle of dirty water and debris remains. The pool tiles are cracked and dirty.

Cape Town, SA 2018 Residents Of Cape Town Face Worsening Drought Conditions And Water Restrictions. Due to Water Restrictions the City of Cape Town implemented water saving policies and decreased the number of pools open to the public. Morgana Wingard/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Afghanistan has faced an extreme ongoing drought since 2018 that is affecting millions of people. In the first quarter of 2020, more than 40,000 Afghans had to leave their homes due to natural disasters.

Three people walk along a dirt road past stone ruins. A thick layer of dust hangs in the air, obscuring the view of the distance.

Afghanistan 2019 In the Afghan city of Bamiyan, young girls are caught by a sandstorm on their way to school. Solmaz Daryani / Climate Visuals Countdown

Perhaps this is to be expected in regions with weather that’s already considered extreme. But all sorts of places are experiencing unexpectedly harsh weather these days.

In 2021, an unprecedented “heat dome” covered North America, with Canada’s British Columbia reaching 49.6°C in June. The heat led directly to the deaths of nearly 500 people, most of them over 65.

At the same time over the summer, Europe was beset with damaging floods in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium and with wildfires across Greece and Turkey.

A blistering heatwave gripped southeastern Europe creating tinderbox conditions that Greek officials blamed squarely on climate change. 

Turkey struggled against its deadliest wildfires in decades. The fires tearing through Turkey destroyed huge swathes of pristine forest and forced the evacuation of panicked tourists from seaside hotels

Three people herding a flock of sheep away from an advancing wildfire in Turkey, the sky filled with smoke.

Turkey 2021. Men gather sheeps to take them away from an advancing fire on August 2, 2021 in Mugla, Marmaris district, as the European Union sent help to Turkey and volunteers joined firefighters in battling a week of violent blazes. YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images

Fires in the Amazon Rainforest shocked the world in 2019 – how could a rainforest burn?

Now, wetlands across South America are also regularly burning, including the Brazilian Pantanal, and the Paraná Delta in Argentina, which saw 32,445 fire outbreaks in 2020 alone. 

Across Argentina, more than 400,000 hectares caught fire in the same year, according to a recent report from the National Fire Management Service. 

A person wearing a face mask and carrying a shovel walks through a burned forest. Light filters through the charred trees, whilst heavy smoke rises from the ground and hangs in the air.

Paraná Delta, Argentina 2020. Just like in Brazil, people clearing land for livestock or farming are the main culprit for the fires in the country. © Eduardo Bodiño / Greenpeace

Climate justice is justice for everyone, everywhere

While the most dramatic images come from the most seriously affected places, climate change is now affecting everyone everywhere.

Flooding and storms are ramping up in the UK and Germany as typhoons did in the Philippines many years back – devastating communities year after year.

A climate activist carrying a placard in the shape of a star, with fairy lights around it, and sign reading "Declare Climate Emergency".

Philippines 2019 Youth Climate advocates and various environmental groups call for a climate justice during the protest in Manila, Philippines. © Basilio H. Sepe / Greenpeace

People in wealthier countries that haven’t yet felt the worst of the climate crisis – but who are most responsible for it historically and through consumption patterns today – will need to start to consume differently.

We know about meat and dairy, but even products as seemingly harmless as chocolate have caused damage that will now need to be fixed. Deforestation due to the cultivation of cocoa has reduced the size of the Ivorian forest by nearly 90%.

A person transferring two potted saplings to a bucket filled with similar saplings, inside a large netted garden area.

Ivory Coast 2021 A woman prepares cuttings for reforestation in the classified forest of Tene near Oumé, south western region in Ivory Coast. Tene is the largest reforestation site in the country, where nurseries of teak, gmelina, samba, sraké and franiré, wood species destined to be planted on plots of land that are being grown from the seeds collected. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images

Practical action on land use and resource stewardship – ways of living not lost by Indigenous Peoples and many other marginalised communities, like fishers around the world – are urgently needed. 

And financial aid from the developed world to deal with these climate impacts, and to pay for clean technologies, will be a crucial step in creating a fair and sustainable world for generations to come.

A person stands barefoot at the top of a tall ladder, making adjustments to the mounted solar panel. Rolling mountains seen behind them, giving a sense of the tall height they are working at.

India 2009 A solar engineer is pictured in the solar powered village of Tinginapu, in the Eastern Ghats of Orissa. Abbie Trayler-Smith/Panos

The path to survival will come in many forms. Our vulnerability to extreme weather or corrupt and unfair economic and political systems does not mean surrendering to them.

Humans created the climate crisis through their industrial and agricultural ingenuity – and so also have the power to unmake it. As the impacts of rising temperatures start to pile up, this will be the defining challenge of the 21st century.

A volunteer holds a red sign reading "Demand Climate Action Now". Their very cute pet dog can be seen next to the sign.

Eastbourne, UK, 2021. © Greenpeace

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