If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, up to a third of endemic species living on land – as well as about half living in the sea – face extinction, a new report has revealed.
According to the study published in the journal Biological Conservation on Friday, if the planet heats by more than 3C (37.4F), animals and plants face mass extinction.
On mountains, 84% of native animals and plants face being wiped out at these temperatures, while on islands the number rises to 100%.
If global warming continues, then places like the Caribbean islands, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka could see most of their endemic plants become extinct as soon as 2050.
The tropics are especially vulnerable, with more than 60% of tropical endemic species facing extinction due to climate change alone.
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Overall, the report predicts 92% of land-based endemic species and 95% of marine endemics face “negative consequences”, such as a reduction in numbers, at 3C – and current policies put the world well on track for reaching that temperature.
But despite the bleak findings, the paper also offers hope.
The researchers estimate that by keeping global temperature within the climate goals of the Paris Agreement – which aims to keep the planet’s temperature well below 2C (35.6F), ideally at 1.5C (34.7F) – it would reduce the risk to these species by more than tenfold, and save many.
In total, just 2% of endemic land species and 2% of endemic marine species face extinction at 1.5C, and 4% of each at 2C.
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The global team of scientists behind the report analysed almost 300 biodiversity hotspots – places with exceptionally high numbers of animal and plant species – on land and at sea.
Many of these hotspots contain “endemic” species, unique to one geographic location such as one island or one country.
Endemic species include the likes of Madagascar’s lemurs and the snow leopard of the Himalayas, and are 2.7 times more likely to go extinct with unchecked temperature increases than species that are widespread.
Stella Manes, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said: “Climate change threatens areas overflowing with species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
“The risk for such species to be lost forever increases more than tenfold if we miss the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
And she added that biodiversity has “more value than meets the eye”.
“The greater the diversity of species, the greater will nature’s health be,” she said.
The UK is set to host the UN Climate Summit, COP26, in Glasgow in November – if pandemic restrictions allow.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and TV naturalist David Attenborough launched the event but Attenborough has already made the grim warning that it is “already too late” to reverse global warming.
In an impassioned address, the veteran broadcaster said: “There is no going back – no matter what we do now, it’s too late to avoid climate change and the poorest, the most vulnerable, those with the least security, are now certain to suffer.”
Sky News has launched the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.
Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show will follow Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.
The show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.