Animals and plants will be irreversibly devastated by global warming if countries don’t reduce their carbon emissions drastically, scientists warned Friday.
Snow leopards, vaquita porpoises, forest elephants and other animals will go extinct if the world keeps warming up.
If temperatures rise three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, animal and plant life will go extinct in nearly 300 biodiversity “hot spots” on land and in the sea, they reported in the journal Biological Conservation.
Scientists came to this conclusion after analysing 8,000 published risk evaluations for animals and plants.
Earth’s surface has heated up one degree Celsius so far, and the Paris Agreement urges nations to limit warming at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, even 1.5C if possible.
But with the current national commitments to stop greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures will still rise above 3C by the end of this century, if not sooner.
So-called endemic species, plants and animals found exclusively in a specific area, will be hit hardest in a warming world.
“Climate change threatens areas overflowing with species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” said lead author Stella Manes, a researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
From snow leopards in the Himalayas and the vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California to lemurs in Madagascar and forest elephants in central Africa, many of the planet’s most cherished animals will go extinct if humans don’t stop filling the atmosphere with CO2 and methane.
“By nature, these species cannot easily move to more favourable environments,” explained co-author Mark Costello, a marine ecologist from the University of Aukland.
Marine species in the Mediterranean are especially threatened because they are trapped in an enclosed sea, he added.
These findings may require conservationists to rethink how to best protect endangered wildlife. Up to now, the main threats to animals have been habitat loss, mining, agriculture and hunting.
To keep animals safe, protected areas have been created, especially around biodiversity hot spots. But these protected areas may be of little use in the face of global warming.
“Unfortunately, our study shows that those biodiversity rich-spots will not be able to act as species refugia from climate change,” said co-author Mariana Vale, also from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Even before the impact of global warming has truly kicked in, scientists have established that Earth is at the start of a so-called mass extinction event in which species are disappearing at 100 to 1,000 times the normal rate.
This is exclusively to blame on the way humans have abused Earth’s resources in the past 50 years.
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