Rewilding Could Help Limit Warming Beyond 1.5°C, Scientists Say
It’s no secret that preserving and restoring wilderness areas is good for ecosystems, but a new study has pinpointed another major benefit to rewilding.
According to the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, rewilding, or preserving and restoring wildlife and wilderness areas, could improve natural carbon sinks in ecosystems, therefore boosting natural methods of carbon capture and helping the world limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Scientists studied nine wildlife species for the study: marine fish, whales, sharks, gray wolves, wildebeest, sea otters, musk oxen, African forest elephants and American bison. In their analysis, the study authors found that protecting or restoring the populations of just these nine species could collectively help ecosystems capture an additional 6.41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about 95% of carbon emissions needed to be captured in order to meet the Paris agreement’s 1.5°C target.
“Wildlife species, throughout their interaction with the environment, are the missing link between biodiversity and climate,” Oswald Schmitz, Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology for the School of the Environment at Yale University, said in a statement. “This interaction means rewilding can be among the best nature-based climate solutions available to humankind.”
From 1970 to 2018, global wildlife populations declined an average of 69%, according to World Wildlife Fund. With these population losses, ecosystems lost benefits of natural carbon capturing behaviors and processes. As populations continue to decline and as species become extinct, the species’ ecosystems can go from capturing carbon to becoming sources of carbon emissions, the study found.
Despite pledges and action plans to limit warming to 1.5°C, recent studies have found humanity on track to surpass this target. A study using artificial intelligence predicted we will pass 1.5°C of warming in just 10 to 15 years, and emissions from global agriculture alone could push the planet pass the targets set by the Paris agreement.
Warming past 1.5°C is expected to bring catastrophic impacts around the world, including deadly heatwaves, extreme temperatures, sea level rise, flooding, extensive droughts, stronger storms, decline in biodiversity and more.
But the new study shows promising results of focused efforts of rewilding for the nine species analyzed in the study as well as other species around the world. Some additional species to consider for rewilding and improving carbon capture include the African buffalo, white rhinos, pumas, dingos, loggerhead turtles and green turtles.
“Natural climate solutions are becoming fundamental to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, while creating added opportunity to enhance biodiversity conservation,” the study authors wrote. “To ignore animals leads to missed opportunities to enhance the scope, spatial extent, and range of ecosystems that can be enlisted to help hold climate warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
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