Learn more about our impactLearn more about our impact
WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
Up to half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas, such as the Amazon and the Galapagos, could face local extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked. Even if the Paris Climate Agreement 2°C target is met, these places could lose 25 percent of their species according to a landmark new study by the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and WWF.
“Hotter days, longer periods of drought, and more intense storms are becoming the new normal, and species around the world are already feeling the effects,” said Nikhil Advani, lead specialist for climate, communities, and wildlife at WWF. “While we work to ratchet down emissions, it’s critical we also improve our understanding of species’ response to climate change and develop strategies to help them adapt.”
Published today in the journal Climatic Change and just ahead of Earth Hour, the world’s largest environmental event, researchers examined the impact of climate change on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and naturally wildlife-rich areas. It explores a number of different climate change futures – from a no-emissions-cuts case in which global mean temperatures rise by 4.5°C, to a 2°C rise, the upper limit for temperature in the Paris Agreement. Each area was chosen for its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.
The report finds that the Miombo Woodlands, home to African wild dogs, southwest Australia and the Amazon-Guianas are projected to be some the most affected areas. If there was a 4.5°C global mean temperature rise, the climates in these areas are projected to become unsuitable for many the plants and animals that currently live there, meaning:
Additionally, increased average temperatures and more erratic rainfall could become be the “new normal” according to the report - with significantly less rainfall in the Mediterranean, Madagascar and the Cerrado-Pantanal in Argentina. Potential effects include:
“Our research quantifies the benefits of limiting global warming to 2°C for species in 35 of the world’s most wildlife-rich areas,” said Rachel Warren, lead researcher from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. “We studied 80,000 species of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and found that 50 percent of species could be lost from these areas without climate policy. However, if global warming is limited to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, this could be reduced to 25 percent. Limiting warming to within 1.5°C was not explored but would be expected to protect even more wildlife.”
Overall the research shows that the best way to protect against species loss is to keep global temperature rise as low as possible. The Paris Agreement pledges to reduce the expected level of global warming from 4.5°C to around 3°C, which reduces the impacts, but we see even greater improvements at 2°C; and it is likely that limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C would protect more wildlife.
This is why on March 24 millions of people across the world will come together for Earth Hour, to show their commitment to reducing global emissions and protecting people and wildlife from the impacts of climate change. The event also sends a clear message to business and government that there is a global will to change this trajectory.
Note to editors: WWF has produced a corresponding summary report, "Wildlife in a Warming World."