Up to 30 percent of plant and animal species could face extinction if the global average temperature rises more than roughly 3 to 5°C. Temperatures in this range could be reached in this century if emissions are not reduced. Many species have already shifted their ranges to higher latitudes and higher elevations over the past several decades. Spring has been arriving earlier, influencing the timing of bird and fish migration, egg laying, leaves appearing on trees, and spring planting for agriculture and forestry. The magnitude of these types of changes is expected to increase along with temperatures over this century.
Some species are already suffering due to warming. For example, the harlequin frog, golden toad, and an estimated two-thirds of the 110 or so other brightly- colored toad species once plentiful in the mountains of Costa Rica have vanished, with a pathogen outbreak tied to global warming believed to be a key factor in their extinction.
Looking ahead, many other species may not be able to adapt to the rapid rate of projected climate change. In addition, the effects of global warming and its associated disturbances (including floods, droughts, insects, and fires) will be compounded by pollution, resource exploitation, and habitat fragmentation, adding further challenges to species’ ability to adapt.
- Every 20 minutes, the world adds another 3,500 human lives but loses one or more entire species of animal or plant life- at least 27,000 species per year. [Population Action International]
- More than a million species face extinction from disappearing habitat, changing ecosystems, and acidifying oceans. [Energy Kids]
- Substantial changes in structure and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems are very likely to occur with a global warming of more than 2-3°C above pre-industrial levels. [USFWS]
- At the present rates of extinction, as many as 20% of the world’s 7-15 million species could be gone in the next 30 years. [African Conservancy]
- “We can no longer see the continued loss of biodiversity as an issue separate from the core concerns of society: to tackle poverty, to improve the health, prosperity and security of present and future generations, and to deal with climate change. Each of those objectives is undermined by current trends in the state of our ecosystems, and each will be greatly strengthened if we finally give biodiversity the priority it deserves.” –Convention on Biological Diversity’s ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 3’ report
- “The time for ignoring biodiversity and persisting with conventional thinking regarding wealth
creation and development is over. We must get on to the path towards a green economy.” -Pavan Sukhdev
- “There will be no polar ice by 2060… Somewhere along that path the polar bear drops out.” –Larry Schweiger, President, National Wildlife Federation, 2006
- “A sound-bite culture can’t discuss science very well. Exactly what we’re losing when we reduce biodiversity, the causes and consequences of global warming- these traumas can’t be adequately summarized in an evening news wrap-up.” –Barbara Kingsolver
- “Can a growing human population still leave space for wildlife?” –Sir David Attenborough
- “Our health relies entirely on the vitality of our fellow species on Earth.” –Harrison Ford
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About the AuthorKarl Burkart is the Digital Communications Director for the GCCA, the Global Call for Climate Action, and TckTckTck, a network of 400+ diverse organizations working around the world for greater action on the growing problem of climate change. Karl also blogs on technology and the environment for a variety of publications. You can follow him on Twitter @greendig.
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