A landmark new study by the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and the World Wildlife Fund reveals that up to half of plant and animal species could face local extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change. 

Researchers analysed the impact of different climate change scenarios (from a no-emissions-cuts case leading to rise in temperatures by 4.5°C to 2°C rise envisaged by the Paris Agreement) on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and naturally wildlife-rich areas. The report contains case studies of impacts of climate change on orangutans, snow leopards, tigers, polar bears and marine turtles.   

A 4.5°C global rise in temperature would make areas most affected by climate change such as Miombo Woodlands, south-west Australia and the Amazon-Guianas unsuitable for many of the plants and animals that currently live there. Researchers found that 50% of species could be lost from these areas without adequate climate policy. For instance, the Amazon could lose 69% of its plant species; 89% of amphibians living in south-west Australia could become locally extinct. 

The report found that up to 90% of amphibians, 86% of birds and 80% of mammals could potentially become locally extinct in the Miombo Woodlands, Southern Africa. As result of droughts and subsequent water shortages in the Western Cape Region of South Africa, the Montane Fynbos, recognized as one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth, could face extinctions of a third of its species.  Increased average temperatures and more erratic rainfalls may lead to increased pressure on water supplies of African elephants (drinking 150-300 litres of water a day); and comparatively fewer male marine turtles, due to temperature-induced sex assignment of eggs. The report also points out that 96% of the breeding grounds of Sundarbans tigers could become submerged by sea-level rise.   Particularly worrying is the conclusion that even if the Paris Climate Agreement 2°C target is met, the world’s most naturally rich areas, including the Amazon and the Galapagos could lose 25% of their species. 

Lead researcher Prof Rachel Warren said: 

“We found that 50 per cent 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 per cent. Limiting warming to within 1.5°C was not explored, but would be expected to protect even more wildlife.”