Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This #GivingTuesday, whatever is your first priority, your second priority has to be independent media.

2021 has been one of the most dangerous and difficult years for independent journalism that we’ve ever seen. Our democracy is facing serial existential threats including the climate emergency, vaccine apartheid amid deadly pandemic, a global crisis for biodiversity, reproductive freedoms under assault, rising authoritarianism worldwide, and corporate-funded corruption of democracy that run beneath all of this. Giving Tuesday is a critical opportunity to make sure our journalism remains funded so that we can stay focused on all your priority issues. Please contribute today to keep Common Dreams alive and growing.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

The study is the most comprehensive look yet at the impact of climate change on biodiversity loss, analysing 131 existing studies on the subject. The stresses on wildlife and their habitats from global warming is in addition to pressures such as deforestation, pollution and overfishing that have already seen the world lose half its animals in the past 40 years. (Photo: Pinterest)

As Planet Warms, One in Six Species Face Total Extinction: Study

New study shows that window of opportunity is fast closing for humanity to save planet's ability to support life on Earth as we've known it

Jon Queally

One in six of all animal and plant species on Earth could become extinct from impacts related to climate change if human society does not dramatically reduce its emission of greenhouse gases, according to new research published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Conducted as a meta-analysis of existing research done on the possible impact of climate change on species loss, the new study—titled Accelerating Extinction Risk From Climate Change—found that the range of predicted loss went from no species loss at all (0%) to as much as 54% in extreme scenarios, but that a synthesis of the existing data and new modeling offered a clearer view of what the future may hold.

Mark Urban, professor of ecology at the University of Connecticut and lead author of the new study, says its most worrying findings are not set in stone but should come as a warning to humanity and world leaders that action on climate must come soon if the planet is to maintain its existing biodiversity and ability to support life. Though its conclusions are considered "predictive" and based on various models of what the future may look like, the study warns that as warming continues to increase in the coming decades the rate of extinctions could accelrate rapidly.

"We have the choice," Urban told the New York Times in an interview. "The world can decide where on that curve they want the future Earth to be."

And as Urban writes in the study:

In 1981, [NASA's Dr. James] Hansen and colleagues predicted that the signal of global climate change would soon emerge from the stochastic noise of weather (26). Thirty years later, we are reaching a similar threshold for the effects of climate change on biodiversity. Extinction risks from climate change are expected not only to increase but to accelerate for every degree rise in global temperatures. The signal of climate change–induced extinctions will become increasingly apparent if we do not act now to limit future climate change.

As the Guardian reports:

The study is the most comprehensive look yet at the impact of climate change on biodiversity loss, analysing 131 existing studies on the subject. The stresses on wildlife and their habitats from global warming is in addition to pressures such as deforestation, pollution and overfishing that have already seen the world lose half its animals in the past 40 years. [...]

The study also emphasises that even for the animals and plants that avoid extinction, climate change could bring about substantial changes in their numbers and distribution.

Jamie Carr at the climate unit of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which compiles the most authoritative list of endangered species worldwide, said: “The loss of one in six species, would be an absolute tragedy, not only because it is sad to lose any part of our rich natural 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.”

Even as the study arrived at its "dire" 16 percent extinction rate by assessing available research, Professor John J. Wiens, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, was among experts who told the Times the reality could end up much worse. According to Wiens,  the number of extinctions "may well be two to three times higher."

As the Times notes:

Dr. Urban found that the rate of extinctions would not increase steadily, but would accelerate if temperatures rose.

Richard Pearson, a biogeographer at University College London, called the new meta-analysis “an important line in the sand that tells us we know enough to see climate change as a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystems.”

But he said that Dr. Urban was likely underestimating the scale of extinctions. The latest generation of climate extinction models are more accurate, Dr. Pearson said: sadly, they also produce more dire estimates.

For his part, Urban seemed most interesting in making sure his research added to that of the broader scientific community which has called on government leaders to do act on climate. As he told the Guardian, "This isn’t just doom and gloom. We still have time. Extinctions can take a long time. There are processes that could be important in mediating these effects, for example evolution, but we really need to very quickly start to understand these risks in a much more sophisticated way."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Hangs Up After Boebert Uses Call to Double Down on 'Outright Bigotry and Hate'

"Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Rep. Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments."

Jessica Corbett ·


Win for Alabama Workers as NLRB Orders New Union Vote After Amazon's Alleged Misconduct

A union leader said the decision confirmed that "Amazon's intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace."

Jessica Corbett ·


'For the Sake of Peace,' Anti-War Groups Demand Biden Return to Nuclear Deal With Iran

"It's time to put differences aside and return to the Iran nuclear deal," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'That's for Them to Decide': UK Secretary Rebuked for Claiming Vaccine Patent Waiver Won't Be 'Helpful' to Global Poor

One U.K. lawmaker asked when the government would "start putting the need to end this pandemic in front of the financial interests of Big Pharma?"

Andrea Germanos ·


Shell Slammed for Plan to Blast South African Coastline for Oil and Gas During Whale Season

"We cannot allow climate criminals, like Shell, to plunder in the name of greed," said Greenpeace.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo