Climate change could eradicate up to half of the plant and animal species in some of the world’s most naturally rich areas, making areas such as the Amazon “unrecognisable”, a new WWF report has warned.
Some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems are facing extinction if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked, according to a new study by the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The alarming projections suggest that even if the UN’s Paris Climate Agreement’s 2C target is met, areas of the world could lose 25% of their species.
In the report, published on Wednesday in the Climate Change journal, researchers analysed the impact of climate change on almost 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and naturally wildlife-rich areas.
Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF, 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 plants and smaller creatures that are the foundation of all life on earth.”
Increased average temperatures and more erratic rainfall could have devastating effects on wildlife. These could include pressure on the water supplies of African elephants, a loss of breeding ground for Sundarbans tigers, and fewer male marine turtles due to temperature-induced sex assignment of eggs.
Some of the most severely affected areas are thought to be the Miombo Woodlands across south-central Africa, south-west Australia, and the Amazon-Guianas.
A 4.5C rise in the global mean temperature could have the following impact:
1. The Amazon
The Amazon could lose 69% of its plant species.
60% of all species are at risk of localised extinction in Madagascar.
3. Miombo Woodlands, Southern Africa
Up to 90% of amphibians, 86% of birds and 80% of mammals potentially becoming locally extinct in the Miombo Woodlands, Southern Africa.
4. Fynbos, Western Cape, South Africa
The Fynbos in the Western Cape Region of South Africa is experiencing a drought that has led to water shortages in Cape Town.
The area could face localised extinctions of a third of its species, many of which are unique to that region.
5. South-west Australia
In south-west Australia 89% of amphibians could become locally extinct.
Lead researcher Professor Rachel Warren, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: “Our research quantifies the benefits of limiting global warming to 2C for species in 35 of the world’s most wildlife-rich areas.
“We studied 80,000 species of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and found that 50% of species could be lost from these areas without climate policy.
“However, if global warming is limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels, this could be reduced to 25%. Limiting warming to within 1.5C was not explored, but would be expected to protect even more wildlife.”