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Global Warming Poses Severe Threat to the 'Richest' Natural Areas

WWF Calls on U.S. Congress to Take Responsible Action on Global Warming

WASHINGTON - Global warming threatens even the world's most biologically diverse natural areas, according to a new report, Habitats at Risk: Global Warming and Species Loss in Globally Significant Terrestrial Ecosystems, from WWF. This report is the first to look specifically at how global warming in the coming decades could impact our most treasured natural habitats - outstanding areas still rich in species and biological distinctiveness. It examines 113 land-based regions of significant size and vegetative surface and finds that huge parts of the world, from the tropics to the poles are at risk.

The report also finds that as global warming changes their habitat, many species will be unable to move to new areas fast enough to survive, raising the possibility of a 'catastrophic' loss of species in one-fifth of the world's most vulnerable nature areas.

To address this global threat, WWF today calls on all nations to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol emission targets. Human-induced emissions of CO2 and other gases blanket the earth, trap in heat and cause global warming.

"It is shocking to see that many of our most biologically valuable ecosystems are at special risk from global warming. If we don't do something to reverse this frightening trend, it would mean extinction for thousands of species," said Dr. Jay R. Malcolm, author of the report and a professor at the University of Toronto.

Among the U.S. ecosystems at risk, areas in California, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Prairie may be hardest hit. Dramatic changes may devastate the shrub and woodland areas that stretch from Southern California to San Francisco, prairies in the northern heart of the United States, Sierra Nevada mountains, Klamath-Siskiyou forest near the California-Oregon border, and the Sonoran-Baja deserts across the southwestern United States.

Worldwide, the areas most vulnerable to devastation from global warming include the Canadian Low Arctic Tundra, the Central Andean Dry Puna of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, the Ural Mountains and the Daurian Steppe of Mongolia and Russia, the Terai-Duar savannah of northeastern India, southwestern Australia and the Fynbos of South Africa.

The release of this report coincides with the start of an international WWF campaign to ensure that countries around the world protect these distinctive ecosystems from global warming by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol this year so it becomes legally binding. WWF also calls on the U.S. Congress and Bush Administration to immediately put in place strong domestic plans to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets.

"The solutions to global warming are at hand and the risks are high. Responsible leaders must act now to help protect America's richest natural treasures for future generations," said Jennifer Morgan, Director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign. "As this new report clearly shows, to delay action on reducing our carbon dioxide emissions puts the survival of many species - plants, animals and people worldwide - at unnecessary risk."

Members of the U.S. Congress can put in place a strong domestic plan by passing legislation to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants; increase the percentage of the nation's power that comes from clean, renewable energy resources; and increase the fuel economy of motor vehicles to 40 miles per gallon. By passing current legislative initiatives such as a Renewable Portfolio Standard and higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, the U.S. Congress can help protect America's richest natural treasures for future generations. These same measures will reduce our dependence on foreign oil thereby increasing our national security, and reduce the air pollution that causes acid rain, smog, and respiratory illness.