Thanks to humankind's enormous consumption of fossil fuels over the last century and its refusal to bring down carbon emissions, a new study says that 50,000 of the world's common plant and animals species are now at severe risk of losing their natural habitat in the coming decades.
Scientists from Australia, the UK, and Colombia say that if if carbon emissions are not sharply reduced—and soon—huge areas of habitat will become unlivable. According to the study, 57 percent of plant species and 34 percent of animals are likely to lose somewhere near half of "their present climatic range by the year 2080s."
Plants, reptiles, and amphibians are predicted to be hit hardest.
"Climate change will greatly reduce biodiversity, even for many common animals and plants," said the study's lead author Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia in England.
It's not too late, according to the study's abstract, but action must be taken soon:
With mitigation[...] losses are reduced by 60% if emissions peak in 2016 or 40% if emissions peak in 2030. Thus, our analyses indicate that without mitigation, large range contractions can be expected even amongst common and widespread species, amounting to a substantial global reduction in biodiversity and ecosystem services by the end of this century. Prompt and stringent mitigation, on the other hand, could substantially reduce range losses and buy up to four decades for climate change adaptation.
Though the scienstists admit that predicting accurately the manner in which plants and animals will adapt to future climate change is difficult, their statements also contend that many of their estimates about biodiversity loss are "conservative" in light of the rapid changes seen by numerous studies in recent years.
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Just days ago, new atmospheric data showed the world's carbon levels have crossed the 400 parts per million threshold which scientists say indicates the dire nature of the climate change situation.
“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a Columbia University earth scientist, in response to the new emission numbers.
Reporting on the biodiversity loss study, Reuters puts the alarming findings in context:
Almost 200 governments have agreed to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times. They plan to agree, by the end of 2015, a deal to curb emissions.
Global average surface temperatures have risen by 0.8 degree C (1.4F) since the Industrial Revolution.
The amount of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the atmosphere topped 400 parts per million for the first time since measurements began in 1958, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Friday.
A U.N. panel of climate scientists says it is at least 90 percent likely that human activities, rather than natural variations, are the main cause of warming since about 1950.