We projected changes in weather extremes, hydrological impacts and vulnerability to food insecurity at global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C relative to pre-industrial, using a new global atmospheric general circulation model HadGEM3A-GA3.0 driven by patterns of sea-surface temperatures and sea ice from selected members of the 5th Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) ensemble, forced with the RCP8.5 concentration scenario. To provide more detailed representations of climate processes and impacts, the spatial resolution was N216 (approx. 60 km grid length in mid-latitudes), a higher resolution than the CMIP5 models. We used a set of impacts-relevant indices and a global land surface model to examine the projected changes in weather extremes and their implications for freshwater availability and vulnerability to food insecurity. Uncertainties in regional climate responses are assessed, examining ranges of outcomes in impacts to inform risk assessments. Despite some degree of inconsistency between components of the study due to the need to correct for systematic biases in some aspects, the outcomes from different ensemble members could be compared for several different indicators. The projections for weather extremes indices and biophysical impacts quantities support expectations that the magnitude of change is generally larger for 2°C global warming than 1.5°C. Hot extremes become even hotter, with increases being more intense than seen in CMIP5 projections. Precipitation-related extremes show more geographical variation with some increases and some decreases in both heavy precipitation and drought. There are substantial regional uncertainties in hydrological impacts at local scales due to different climate models producing different outcomes. Nevertheless, hydrological impacts generally point towards wetter conditions on average, with increased mean river flows, longer heavy rainfall events, particularly in South and East Asia with the most extreme projections suggesting more than a doubling of flows in the Ganges at 2°C global warming. Some areas are projected to experience shorter meteorological drought events and less severe low flows, although longer droughts and/or decreases in low flows are projected in many other areas, particularly southern Africa and South America. Flows in the Amazon are projected to decline by up to 25%. Increases in either heavy rainfall or drought events imply increased vulnerability to food insecurity, but if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, this vulnerability is projected to remain smaller than at 2°C global warming in approximately 76% of developing countries. At 2°C, four countries are projected to reach unprecedented levels of vulnerability to food insecurity.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘The Paris Agreement: understanding the physical and social challenges for a warming world of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’.