Dire consequences if global warming exceeds 2 degrees says IUCN
November 29, 2005
Montreal, Canada—The parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change must keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, says the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The consensus of international conservation organizations is that if temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, massive species extinctions and dramatic changes in ecosystems will have severe consequences for human wellbeing.
“The Kyoto Protocol was an important milestone, but it is simply not enough. This conference must find new ways to achieve more serious emissions reductions after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires,” says Achim Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union.
Recent studies have even predicted that up to one million species could go extinct due to climate change. Whatever scenario one may refer to, the number of reports of extinctions and changes in ecosystems are increasing already.
On November 28, 2005 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and, for the first time, the parties to the Kyoto Protocol are meeting in Montreal, Canada over the next two weeks.
One Million Species Could Go Extinct Due To Climate Change
Canada’s boreal forests may be impacted by climate change more than many other regions. Boreal forests could decline in response to climate change, through factors such as increased incidences of diseases, pest infestations, fires, invasive species, severe weather events, or reduced rainfall.
The Kihansi Spray Toad is one of the world’s most endangered species of amphibians. It may now be extinct in the wild.
While for some ecosystems there are only warnings for the future, in others the impacts of climate change are already visible.
“We now receive more and more evidence that corals in the Caribbean are dying at an unprecedented speed and scale. While coral bleaching cannot be attributed to climate change alone, nature is giving us plenty of warning signs to reduce our emissions and adapt our resource management strategies,” says Carl-Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.
One-third of all amphibians and reptiles are threatened with extinction, with climate change being one of the causes, as shown by the Global Amphibian Assessment released earlier this year.
Climate Change Puts Human Well-being At Risk
Extinction of species and changes in habitats put human well-being at risk. Human livelihoods are affected if plant or animal species go extinct, since many communities use them as sources of food, fuel and income. Furthermore, changes in rainfall and temperatures will impact agriculture—the crops that are produced and the contribution that biodiversity makes to these production systems, for instance through pollination, water provision, or pest control.
Carbon stored in Canada’s boreal forests and peatlands is worth $3.7 trillion according to research by the Pembina Institute for the Canadian Boreal Initiative. The two-year study puts the value of ecosystem services like water filtration, pest-control services, and carbon storage at $93 billion — roughly 2.5 times greater than the net market value of forestry, hydroelectric, mining, and oil and gas extraction in Canada’s Boreal region.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could lose 95 percent of its living coral by 2050 should ocean temperatures increase by the 1.5 degrees Celsius projected by climate scientists. The startling and controversial prediction, made last year in a report commissioned by the World Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Queensland government, is just one of the dire scenarios forecast for reefs in the near future. The degradation and possible disappearance of these ecosystems would have profound socioeconomic ramifications as well as ecological impacts says Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, head of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Marine Studies.
Continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels could trigger large-scale changes in global biodiversity and require thousands of years of recovery according to recent research on an extreme global warming episode 55 million years ago.
Lakes and wetlands in the Kenai Peninsula of south-central Alaska are drying at a significant rate. The shift seems to be driven by climate change, and could endanger waterfowl habitats and hasten the spread of wildfires.
Climate change 55 million years ago caused significant changes in forest composition and the distribution of mammals according to a new study in Science. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, in which temperatures rose by as much as 10 degrees in a relatively short period of time, helped bolster the “Age of Mammals,” which included the first appearance of modern primates. After an initial period of increasing aridity in northern latitudes like the study site of Bighorn Basin in northwestern Wyoming, it appears that forests transitioned towards warm tropical ecosystems with closely spaced trees, ideal for the evolution of primates.
“Poor communities in fragile ecosystems such as montane forests or drylands will be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Now is the time to accelerate our understanding of climate change impacts and local vulnerability, and apply adaptive approaches to agriculture, forestry and water management to reduce impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods,” says Stephen Kelleher, Senior Programme Officer for the IUCN Forest Conservation Programme.
While reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should be the most important target, climate change is already happening and we need to take steps to adapt.
Adaptation strategies identify ecosystems and communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts, and strive to reduce these impacts, improve the resilience of ecosystems, and identify or modify livelihood options for people.
Examples of adaptation strategies are forest landscape restoration to increase resilience to climate change by augmenting quality, quantity and diversity of forests or the restoration of floodplains to improve the buffer capacity of river systems. It is in these areas that the World Conservation Union is set to make a contribution.
Meaningful Emissions Reductions Remains First And Foremost Target
But the hard facts remain that humanity is pumping too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and that global emissions are still increasing. Reducing emissions to stay below a 2 degree increase in temperature remains the first and foremost task of the parties to the convention.
“To use a simple analogy: you can mop up water, but only after you have plugged the leak. Investing in adaptation only makes sense after parties have made serious commitments to and investments in emission reductions,” says Achim Steiner.
The body of the above statement is a news release from IUCN.