Global Warming Threatens One Third of All Habitat

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, August 30, 2000 (ENS) - As the planet warms, extinction is the forecast for vulnerable animals and plants across more than a third of the Earth's natural habitat, researchers report in a sweeping new study released today.

The habitats found in northern latitudes such as Canada are expected to be most vulnerable to global
warming. (Photo courtesy EcoMountain Tours) In Canada, Russia and Scandinavia, where warming is predicted to be most rapid, up to 60 percent of habitat could be lost by the end of this century.
The report, "Global Warming and Terrestrial Biodiversity Decline," was released by World Wildlife
Fund Canada (WWF-Canada), the David Suzuki Foundation and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC).

It warns that many species of plants and animals will be unable to migrate fast enough to keep up with
changing habitat.

"In large areas, species would have to move 10 times faster than they did during the last ice age merely to survive," said Dr. Jay Malcolm, assistant professor of forestry at the University of Toronto, and co-author of the report.

The report bases its predictions on an estimate that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the
atmosphere will double from pre-industrial levels during this century. Some projections suggest a
three-fold increase in concentrations by 2100 unless action is taken to rein in the inefficient use of
coal, oil and gas for energy production.

Costa Rica's golden toad is already thought to be extinct. (Photo courtesy WWF/R. Malenki)
Species most at risk because they are already rare or live in isolated or fragmented habitats, include the Gelada baboon in Ethiopia, the mountain pygmy possum of Australia, the monarch butterfly at its Mexican wintering grounds, and the spoon-billed sandpiper at its breeding sites in Russia's arctic far east. Other species are already showing signs of change. Costa Rica's golden toad is thought to be extinct and birds such as the great tit in Scotland and the Mexican jay in Arizona are beginning to breed earlier in the year.

Butterflies are shifting their ranges northwards throughout Europe and mammals in many parts of the
Arctic - including polar bears, walrus and caribou - are beginning to feel the impacts of reduced sea ice and warming tundra habitat.

In the United States, most of New England's and New York State's northern spruce and fir forest could ultimately be lost. In patches of habitat that do survive, local species loss may be as high as 20 per cent in the most vulnerable mountain ecosystems such as northern Alaska, Russia's Tamyr Peninsula and southeastern Australia.

Polar bears and other arctic dwellers are feeling the effects of reduced sea ice. (Photo courtesy
Greenpeace/Beltra) The report goes on to warn:

Russia, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Georgia all have more than half of their existing habitat at risk from global warming, either through outright loss or through
change into another habitat type.

Seven Canadian provinces or territories - Yukon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba - have more than half their habitat at risk.

In the U.S., more than a third of existing habitat in Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas could change.

If CO2 levels double, local species loss may be as high as 20 percent in the most vulnerable arctic and mountain habitats as a result of climate change reducing the size of habitat. Highly sensitive regions include Russia's Tamyr Peninsula, parts of eastern Siberia, northern Alaska, Canadian boreal/taiga ecosystems and the southern Canadian Arctic islands, northern Scandinavia, western
Greenland, eastern Argentina, Lesotho, the Tibetan plateau, and southeast Australia.

Award winning environmentalist, writer and scientist David Suzuki. (Photo courtesy Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) "This report tells us that global warming threatens the plants, animals and unique settings that are deeply embedded in our national identity," said environmentalist, broadcaster and scientist David Suzuki. "The pace of warming could be much greater than even 13,000 years ago when sabre toothed tigers and woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth. We can't simply continue to sit by and accept this devastating loss," Suzuki said.

A recent David Suzuki Foundation report, "Power Shift," argues Canada can achieve 50 percent
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 using existing technology.

WWF-Canada president Monte Hummel called on all Canadians to do their part to reduce the impact of climate change. "Substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are essential and achievable if all Canadians put their shoulder to the wheel," said Hummel.

"The federal government can and must take the first step and live up to its Kyoto climate commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Hummel demanded. "We call on Canada to take a leadership role at the UN Climate Summit in November in the Netherlands in order to meet Canada's current commitment and chart even greater reductions for the future."

The report's authors warn of dire consequences for habitat and species without a substantial reduction is greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace-U.S.) The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement to collectively reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of 39 industrialized nations to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012. The agreement was reached at the Third Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. But the agreement will not come into effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations emitting at least 55 percent of the six greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. November's meeting in the Netherlands is seen by some as the last chance for ratification.

Within the UN framework, each country has its own target - in the case of Canada, reducing emissions to six percent below 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.

Other targets include an eight percent cut by many Central and East European states, and the European
Union, and seven percent by the U.S.

The agreement covers six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride.

Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF's Climate Change Campaign, called today's report a wakeup call for world leaders.

"If they do not act to stop global warming, wildlife around the globe may suffer the consequences," said Morgan. "World leaders must give top priority to reducing levels of carbon pollution. They must not miss the chance of this November's climate summit for stepping up action and preventing a catastrophe that could change the world as we know it."

Researchers warn of rising sea levels as global warming melts the polar ice caps. (Photo courtesy WWF)

The report's authors Dr. Jay Malcolm and Adam Markham, executive director of the U.S. advocacy group Clean Air-Cool Planet, used computer models that simulate global climate and vegetation change to investigate three important threats to global terrestrial biodiversity.

Rates of global warming that may exceed the migration capabilities of species

Losses of existing habitat during progressive shifts of climatic conditions

Reductions in species diversity as a result of reductions in habitat patch size They analyzed the effects that natural barriers such as oceans and lakes, and human caused impediments to migration, including agricultural land and urban development, might have on the ability of species to move in response to global warming.

Much scientific knowledge about the potential for rapid migration of species comes from fossil evidence of how forests recolonized previously glaciated areas after the last ice age.

Since scientists disagree about whether the rate of recolonization was the maximum attainable rate, or
whether some species could move faster if necessary, Malcolm and Markham analyzed how fast they might be required to move in order to keep up with projected warming.