Climate change will devastate world’s wildlife

Galapagos crop

The Galapagos Islands will be one of the areas devastated.

​Wildlife in world's most species-rich habitats will be wiped out

Graham Martin's photo

14th March 2018 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Up to half of plant and animal life in the world’s most naturally rich areas could face extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change.

Even if the Paris Climate Agreement 2°C target is met, these places could lose 25% of their species according to a landmark new study by the University of East Anglia (UEA), the James Cook University, and WWF.

Published just ahead of WWF’s Earth Hour, the world’s largest environmental event, researchers examined the impact of climate change on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and naturally wildlife-rich areas.

It explores a number of different climate change scenarios from a global mean temperature rise of 4.5°C (expected if the world fails to cut emissions at all) to a 2°C rise, the proposed upper limit for temperature increseases outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Each area was chosen for its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.

The report finds that the Miombo Woodlands, home to African wild dogs, south-west Australia, and the Amazon-Guianas are projected to be some the most affected areas.

If there was a 4.5°C global mean temperature rise, the climates in these areas are projected to become unsuitable for many of the plants and animals that currently live there meaning up to 90% of amphibians, 86% of birds and 80% of mammals could potentially become locally extinct in the Miombo Woodlands, Southern Africa.

Meanwhile, the Amazon could lose 69% of its plant species and in south-west Australia 89% of amphibians could become locally extinct and 60% of all species are at risk of localised extinction in Madagascar.

As well as this, increased average temperatures and more erratic rainfall could become the “new normal” according to the report, with significantly less rainfall in the Mediterranean, Madagascar and the Cerrado-Pantanal in Argentina.

Potential effects include pressure on the water supplies of African elephants and 96% of the breeding grounds of Sundarbans tigers could become submerged by sea-level rise.

Most plants, amphibians and reptiles, such as orchids, frogs and lizards cannot move quickly enough to keep up with these climatic changes.

Dr Sam Gardner, acting director of WWF Scotland, said: “Within our children’s lifetime, places like the Amazon and Galapagos Islands could become unrecognisable, with half the species that live there wiped out by human-caused climate change.

“Around the world, beautiful iconic animals like Amur tigers or Javan rhinos are at risk of disappearing, as well as tens of thousands of plants and smaller creatures that are the foundation of all life on earth."

Overall the research shows that the best way to protect against species loss is to keep global temperature rise as low as possible.

WWF Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that its forthcoming climate change bill ends Scotland's contribution to climate change within a generation.

Earth Hour takes place on Saturday, 24 March at 8.30pm when millions of people across the world will turn off electric lights to show their commitment to reducing global emissions and protecting people and wildlife from the impacts of climate change.