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Report: Unchecked Climate Change Will Lead to Widespread Biodiversity Loss

Animals
The Selous Game Reserve in the Miombo Woodlands of southeastern Tanzania. Russell Scott / Flickr

The world will see enormous losses of biodiversity across all species groups on every continent by the end of this century if we do not make deep cuts to global greenhouse emissions, according to groundbreaking research from the WWF and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of East Anglia.

For the report, the researchers examined how the world's changing climate—expressed by two important variables, temperature and precipitation—will affect nearly 80,000 species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians inhabiting the WWF's 35 Priority Places for conservation. These areas, from the Amazon to the Namibian desert, from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean, feature some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, including many endangered and endemic species.


For each area, the researchers tested three projected climate scenarios: a 2°C rise, the upper temperature limit of the Paris agreement; a 3.2°C rise, which represents the UN's latest projections based on governments likely overshooting their climate pledges; and a 4.5°C rise, or a business-as-usual scenario.

The outlook for each of the three scenarios does not look good. As you can see in the chart below, in the Amazon and Guianas in South America, "even a 2°C rise would make the new average temperature hotter than previous extremes, and would threaten more than one-third of species in all groups in the absence of dispersal," the report states.

If global average temperatures rose to 3.2°C, 60 percent of plant life and 50 percent of wildlife in the Amazon would be at risk for extinction.

Climate change scenarios in the Amazon and Guiuanas.

The predictions were the most alarming in the Miombo Woodlands—one of the Priority Places most vulnerable to climate change—in central and southern Africa.

If global temperatures rose 4.5°C, the report projects the loss of 90 percent of amphibians and 80 percent or more of plants, birds, mammals and reptiles.

Climate change scenarios in the Miombo Woodlands.

The authors suggest two solutions to help save the world's precious biodiversity. The first is dispersal, which would allow some species to migrate to less vulnerable territory.

But the second and most important solution is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting to warming to 1.5°C.

"The most important thing the world can do is to keep global temperature rises to a minimum by doing everything possible to reduce the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," the authors write. "Put simply, we have to stop burning fossil fuels. A couple of degrees may not sound like a huge margin, but the projected harm to biodiversity increases enormously between the rise targeted under the Paris Agreement (well below 2°C and aiming for 1.5°C), and a business-as-usual projection of 4.5°C."

"This is not simply about the disappearance of certain species from particular places, but about profound changes to ecosystems that provide vital services to hundreds of millions of people," they noted.

To avoid this, the authors propose a concerted global response centered on four actions:

1. We must cut global greenhouse-gas emissions. We need deep cuts to global greenhouse-gas emissions, consistent with and improving on the pledges already made under the Paris agreement. There's no way this can be achieved without a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels—particularly coal, but also oil and gas.

2. Conservation planning needs to consider climate change. Conservation planning needs to be based on projected future climatic conditions, with a particular focus on notably vulnerable or resilient areas. An emphasis on aiding species dispersal is critical; as is the promotion of green development that doesn't put extra pressure on wildlife populations as the effects of a warmer climate worsen.

3. Further research is essential. We need to recognize that this area of study is relatively new: alongside on-the-ground action, scientists must keep on with their efforts to deepen our understanding of the changes we can expect to see—and we need to base our policies on the growing knowledge base they're creating.

4. Awareness is key. Finally, people need to know and people need to care. Everyone has a role to play in spreading the word and getting involved.

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Aerial view of Ruropolis, Para state, northen Brazil, on Sept. 6, 2019. Tthe world's biggest rainforest is under threat from wildfires and rampant deforestation. JOHANNES MYBURGH / AFP via Getty Images

By Kate Martyr

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest last month jumped to the highest level since records began in 2015, according to government data.

A total of 563 square kilometers (217.38 square miles) of the world's largest rainforest was destroyed in November, 103% more than in the same month last year, according to Brazil's space research agency.

From January to November this year an area almost the size of the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico was destroyed — an 83% overall increase in destruction when compared with the same period last year.

The figures were released on Friday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), and collected through the DETER database, which uses satellite images to monitor forest fires, forest destruction and other developments affecting the rainforest.

What's Behind the Rise?

Overall, deforestation in 2019 has jumped 30% compared to last year — 9,762 square kilometers (approximately 3769 square miles) have been destroyed, despite deforestation usually slowing during November and December.

Environmental groups, researchers and activists blamed the policies of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro for the increase.

They say that Bolosonaro's calls for the Amazon to be developed and his weakening support for Ibama, the government's environmental agency, have led to loggers and ranchers feeling safer and braver in destroying the expansive rainforest.

His government hit back at these claims, pointing out that previous governments also cut budgets to environment agencies such as Ibama.

The report comes as Brazil came to loggerheads with the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) over climate goals during the UN climate conference in Madrid.

AOSIS blasted Brazil, among other nations, for "a lack of ambition that also undermines ours."

Last month, a group of Brazilian lawyers called for Bolsonaro to be investigated by the International Criminal Court over his environmental policies.

Reposted with permission from DW.

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