If carbon emissions continue to increase unchecked, half of the plant and animal species in the world’s most biodiverse places, including the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands, could face extinction by the end of the century due to climate change.
A new study analyzes several future climate change scenarios and their impact on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and biodiversity-rich areas: from a scenario with no decrease in emissions, where the global average temperature increases by 4.5°C, to an increase of 2°C, the maximum temperature increase limit set in the Paris Agreement. The researchers selected each area because of its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.
The findings point to the urgent need for action on climate change:
- We will see almost 50% species loss in the areas studied if global temperatures increase by 4.5°C
- We will see a loss of less than 25% of species in the areas studied if we limit the global temperature increase to 2°C
If wildlife can move freely to new locations, then the risk of extinction in these areas decreases by 25-20%, but only in a scenario where we keep the increase in global average temperature up to 2°C. And if species cannot move or evolve, they may not be able to survive.
What can we do?
The best way to protect ourselves against the loss of wildlife and plants is to keep the global temperature as low as possible. The Paris Agreement commits to reducing the expected level of global warming from 4.5°C to about 3°C, which would reduce impacts. But projections of the impact on biodiversity would be lower if we manage to stop the temperature rise by 2°C. Even better if the increase is only 1.5°C.
Although the US government has stated its intention to withdraw from the Paris Accord, cities, states, businesses, and many people are working with world leaders to turn the promise of that agreement into concrete action through the We Are Still In movement.
For our part, we at WWF are working to better understand how a changing climate affects wildlife, and to develop and implement adaptation solutions. We are assessing various species to determine what traits can make them resistant or vulnerable to changes in climate; collecting data on climate impacts; and funding projects that have the potential to reduce species’ vulnerability to climate change through our Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund.
At WWF we hope to use the lessons learned from this research to provide useful guidance that promotes conservation beyond conventional approaches and amplifies promising efforts to help wildlife survive in rapidly changing conditions.
The faster and more effectively we act, the better chance we have of saving invaluable species around the world in the face of climate change.