Up to half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas, such as southwest Australia, could face local extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked. Even if the Paris Climate Agreement 2 °C target is met, these places could lose 25 per cent of their species according to a landmark new study by the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and WWF.

 

Published today in the journal Climatic Change and just ahead of Earth Hour, the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, 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 futures – from a no-emissions-cuts case, in which global mean temperatures rise by 4.5 °C[1], to a  2 °C rise, the upper limit for temperature in the Paris Agreement[2]. Each area was chosen for its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.

 

The report finds that southwest Australia, the Miombo Woodlands, and the Amazon-Guianas are projected to be some of the most affected areas. If there was a 4.5 °C global mean temperature rise, half the species of birds and reptiles, two-thirds of mammals, nearly 80 per cent of amphibians and 60 per cent of plants could disappear in southwest Australia by the next generation, leaving a very different backyard for our children.

 

In addition to the report’s findings, other potential effects on Australian wildlife from increased average temperatures[3] include;

  • Higher temperatures in nests are causing marine turtle eggs to produce more females in the northern Great Barrier Reef, signalling a potential population crash;

  • Black-flanked rock-wallabies, already highly endangered, risk further food and habitat loss from extended drought due to climate change;

  • Global warming is changing the water and nitrogen content of eucalyptus leaves, the koala’s only food, making them less nutritious. As a result, koalas are not getting enough water and nutrients from their natural diet and have to leave the protection of their tree-top homes, making them prone to predators and traffic;

  • A third of the Adélie penguin colonies in Antarctica could disappear in less than 50 years due to the impacts of climate change on food supply of krill and fish.

Overall the research shows that the best way to protect against species loss is to keep global temperature rise as low as possible. The Paris Agreement pledges to reduce the expected level of global warming from 4.5 °C to around 3 °C, which reduces the impacts, but we see even greater improvements at 2 °C; and it is likely that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 °C would protect more wildlife.

This is why on 24 March millions of people across the world will come together for Earth Hour, to #Connect2Earth and show their commitment to protecting biodiversity, and being a part of the conversations and solutions needed to build a healthy, sustainable planet – and home – for all. 

 

Download the summary of the report: Wildlife in a Warming World

 


[1] Relative to pre-industrial times

[2] Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change, was an agreement signed by 175 countries in 2016

[3] Based on the Climatic Change report, scientific literature and expert knowledge from WWF