A study published by the journal, Science, found that global warming could drive to extinction as many as 1 in 6 animal and plant species. This warning on the scale of global warming’s impact comes just months before the UN climate talks in Paris.
Dr. Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut compiled and analyzed data from 131 scientific studies about the risk of extinction from climate change. He found that the rate of biodiversity loss is likely to accelerate with every degree celsius increase in temperature. That is, if future temperatures rise by 2 degrees compared to pre-industrial times, global extinction will rise from 2.8% today to 5.2%.
A Cause for Alarm
Assuming that global warming continues on its current path, 16% of the species (or 1 in 6) stand to face extinction. The biggest contributing factor would be the loss of habitat for most of the species. In a study about a pack of wolves with nearly 50 wolves in 1958, it has been found that human intervention has caused the number to dwindle to just 3 remaining wolves in the pack.
“If the world does not come together and control greenhouse gas emissions and we allow the earth to warm considerably, we will face a potential loss of 1 in 6 species. Many species will not be able shift their ranges and keep up with climate change whereas others will not either because their habitat has disappeared or because they can’t reach their habitat anymore,” said Dr. Urban.
Another contributing factor is the rise in global temperature. Entire species would be wiped out because they might not be able to reproduce with the same speed as they get killed by warmer temperatures.
Dr. Urban said, “The risk if we continue on our current trajectory is very high. If you look out your window and count six species and think that one of those will potentially disappear, that’s quite profound. Those losses would affect our economy, our cultures, our food security, our health. It really compels us to act.”
The Risk Might Even be Higher than Projected
The study also shows that extinction risks are higher for Australia, New Zealand, and South America. This is because many species found in these locations adapted to live in habitats not found anywhere else in the world. Australia’s white lemuroid ringtail possums, for instance, would die within hours in higher temperatures.
One commenter, Professor John Wiens of the University of Arizona said that extinction risk might even be higher than 16% since most of the researches involved were from North America and Europe. “In South America, the extinction risk was estimated to be 23%. Unfortunately, this higher number might better reflect the number of species that might go extinct due to climate change globally, if we consider how the world’s species are distributed.”
Jamie Carr from the International Union for Conservation of Nature said, “The loss of 1 in 6 species would be an absolute tragedy, not only because it is sad to lose any part of our rich world, but also because biodiversity is fundamental in providing important functions and services, including to humans. Such significant changes to biological systems would undoubtedly have knock-on effects and could potentially result in the collapse of entire systems.”