Advantages of Visualising the 2050 Climate Change Impacts on Cities

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Despite efforts to report on the risks of climate change, a communication gap persists. This gap between the scientific and public understanding of climate change is called the “Consensus Gap” and is attributed to a failure in climate change communications.

As history has shown repeatedly, data and facts alone cannot inspire behaviour change, and understanding science does not necessarily mean accepting climate change.

So the question is, what can make people change their behaviour to address climate change?

A growing body of research shows that visualisation or creating a mental image of the problem can effectively motivate behaviour change.

Climate change news bombards us almost every day – extreme climate events worldwide, leaders talking about how to tackle the problem, vulnerable countries asking for assistance to cope with climate change effects, and humanitarian and environmental groups demanding changes. 

The 2021 IPCC report presents a big challenge for everyone on our planet. It tells us that we are perilously close to hitting 1.5°C, the global warming limit that parties agreed to during the Paris Agreement in 2015.

According to the report, human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1C°C of warming between 1950-1900. It projects that by 2040 we will exceed the 1.5°C temperature rise limit and go beyond 2°C by the end of this century unless rapid and deep reductions in GHG will occur in the coming decades.

At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes are more likely to reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health. But it won’t just be about temperature. Still, it will also affect the water cycle, and rainfall pattern, permafrost thawing, glacier and ice sheet melts, droughts, and extreme events will become more frequent.

But what the 1.5°C or 2°C warming looks like is sometimes hard for people to imagine or envision or how it might affect their daily lives.

A study to help people visualise climate change evaluates the climate shifts in major cities worldwide – all 520 (Current Cities). It projects what they will most closely resemble in terms of climate conditions in 2050 (Future Cities).

The study tested three questions:

  • (1) What proportion of the world’s major cities of the future most closely resemble their own current climate conditions vs. the climate conditions of other cities in different geographic regions?
  • (2) What proportion of cities will experience novel climate conditions that are outside the range experienced by cities today?
  • (3) If cities do shift their climate conditions, is this spatial shift uniform in direction across the planet?

The study’s findings show that even under an optimistic climate scenario (RCP 4.5), researchers find that 77% of future cities will experience a climate that resembles that of another existing city than its current one. Twenty-two per cent of cities will have a new or novel climate condition – or a climate that has not been experienced in any existing cities.

Across the globe, climate shifts are trending towards the subtropics. Cities from the Northern hemisphere will shift to warmer conditions, and cities from the tropics will have drier conditions. To visualise changes in climate conditions of future cities, researchers use the current climates of some cities.

For example, they predict that Madrid’s climate in 2050 will resemble Marrakech’s climate today, Stockholm will resemble Budapest, London to Barcelona, Moscow to Sofia, Seattle to San Francisco, Tokyo to Changsha, and so on.

According to the researchers, these city parallels and the data from the study can help land managers and city planners visualise the climate futures of their respective cities, facilitating effective decision-making in response to ongoing climate change.

Crowther Lab’s tweet has an infographic that illustrates more.

Crowther Lab created an interactive map of cities that shows the shifts in climate conditions in the future. Click the button below to view:

To read the study, click on the link below:

Source Citations:

Bastin, JF, Clark E., Elliot, T., Hart, S. van den Hoogen, J., et al. (2019) Understanding climate change from a global analysis of city analogues. PLOS ONE. Retrieved from

Cities of the future: visualising climate change to inspire action. Crowther Lab. Retrieved from

IPCC report: ‘Code red’ for human-driven global heating, warns UN Chief. (2021, August 9). UN News. Retrieved from

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