The 21st century is projected to witness unprecedented climatic changes, with greater warming often reported for high latitudes. Yet, climate change can be measured in a variety of ways, reflecting distinct dimensions of change with unequal spatial patterns across the world. Polar climates are projected to not only warm, but also to shrink in area. By contrast, today's hot and arid climates are expected to expand worldwide and to reach climate states with no current analog. Although rarely appreciated in combination, these multiple dimensions of change convey complementary information. We review existing climate change metrics and discuss how they relate to threats and opportunities for biodiversity. Interpreting climate change metrics is particularly useful for unknown or poorly described species, which represent most of Earth's biodiversity.