If we can’t curb carbon emissions, we’re looking at losing up to half of all plant and animal species in the world’s most biodiverse places by the end of the century, according to a new report by the WWF.
The landmark study by the WWF, University of East Anglia, and James Cook University, published today in the journal Climate Change, offers a stark warning of what kind of future we may be looking at if we can’t wrestle human-made climate change under control.
“Within our children’s lifetime, places like the Amazon and Galapagos Islands could become unrecognizable, with half the species that live there wiped out by human-caused climate change,” said Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF, in a statement.
The 50-percent warning is the study’s worst-case scenario of a global temperature rise of 4.5°C (8.1°F), but even if the Paris Climate Agreement target of limiting warming to a 2°C (3.6°F) increase is met, places like the Amazon and the Galapagos could lose up to 25 percent of their unique species, the study warns.
The researchers looked at 80,000 plants and animals species in 35 of the world’s most biodiverse, wild-life rich areas around the globe, producing different models for different climate change futures. The results were sobering.
In real terms, it means that 60 percent of all species in Madagascar could go extinct. The Fynbos in South Africa’s Western Cape could lose a third of all species, the Amazon 69 percent of its plants. The Miombo Woodlands of Southern Africa could see local extinctions for 90 percent of its amphibians, 86 percent of its birds, and 80 percent of its mammals.
Water shortages, like the one currently experienced in South Africa, due to warmer weather and less rainfall will hit Africa, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. Particularly affected will be elephants in Africa, which consume around 190 liters (50 gallons) of water a day, putting them in direct conflict with humans. Conversely, in India, 96 percent of the breeding ground of the Sunderban’s Bengal tigers – of which there are thought to be only 100 left – will be under water.
The loss of so many species would be a blow that could have knock-on effects we haven’t even imagined yet. A study recently published in PNAS was the first to demonstrate that initial species loss, which can irrevocably affect the structure of ecological habitats, leads to follow-on extinctions. We can't let it get that far.
“The numbers are a bit of a wake-up call,” Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser to WWF on climate issues, told The Guardian. “If there is one message, it is that mitigation makes a big difference."