Limiting global warming to 1.5˚C would save vast majority of earth’s species

The vast majority of the world’s plant and animal species would be saved from climate change if global temperatures are limited to the Paris Agreement’s ultimate goal of 1.5˚C.


That is according to a first-of-its-kind study led by researchers at the University of East Anglia, which finds that species in the Amazon, Southern Africa, Europe and Australia would benefit most.

However, failure to restrict temperature increases to 1.5˚C, and instead allowing them to rise to the Paris Agreement’s upper limit of 2˚C, would roughly double the climate risks posed to plants, animals and insects.

“Achieving the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement would reap enormous benefits for biodiversity – much more so than limiting warming to 2˚C,” lead researcher, professor Rachel Warren, said.

The study was published today in the journal Science, and involved analysis of 115,000 species including 31,000 insects, 8,000 birds, 1,700 mammals, 1,800 reptiles, 1,000 amphibians and 71,000 plants.

This is the largest scale study of its kind, finding that the insect population is exceptionally sensitive to climate change, with 18% of species projected to loose more than half their geographical range with 2˚C of warming.

This is thought to particularly worrying considering the role they play in the ecosystem, with the researchers concluding that the climate risks facing insects could be cut by two-thirds by instead limiting warming to 1.5˚C.

Warren said: “This is really important because insects are vital to ecosystems and for humans.

“They pollinate crops and flowers, provide food for higher-level organisms, break down detritus, maintain a balance in ecosystems by eating the leaves of plants, and they help recycle nutrients in the soil.”

Other animals that would benefit greatly from limiting temperature increases to 1.5˚C include the endangered Black Rhinoceros, as well as Charles Darwin’s Finches of the Galapagos.

However, scientists predict that temperatures are set to rise by at least 3˚C this century, and that is assuming nations meet their international pledges to reduce CO2 emissions.

Under this scenario, it is thought that 47% of insect species, 26% of vertebrate and 16% of plant species could lose at least half of their geographic ranges.

Reacting to the study, professor Guy Midgley from Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said: “We need to stay as close to 1.5°C as possible. That is really the conclusion from the Warren et al paper.

“So here is the irony: in order to achieve the 1.5°C target, we may well damage many of the habitats that support biodiversity in order to achieve a target that will save biodiversity.”


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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