The Heat Is Online

One Third of Earth's Habitats Imperiled by Warming

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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."

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."

  • 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.

For more information about their methods and findings, visit for a copy of the report.

Global warming "threatens third of world habitat"

Reuters News Service, Aug. 31, 2000

LONDON - A third of the world's habitat is under threat from global warming and could either disappear or change beyond recognition by the end of this century, according to a World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) report yesterday.

In Russia, Canada and Scandinavia up to 70 percent of habitats could be lost, while in the United States much of the spruce and fir forests of New England and New York state may be wiped out if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced.

"This is not some slow, controlled change we're talking about. It's fast, it's unpredictable and it's unprecedented during human civilisation," Adam Markham, a co-author of the report, told a news conference in London.

The study based its predictions on what its authors said was a "moderate" projection that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double from pre-industrial levels during this century.

Markham, the director of the U.S.-based campaign group Clean Air - Cool Planet, and co-author Jay Malcolm, of the University of Toronto, used climate and vegetation models to map out the potential risk to biodiversity in the future.

Markham said that as global warming accelerates, plants and animals will be forced to migrate to find new habitats. But the speed of climate change may mean many of them are not able to move and adapt fast enough.

"In some places plants would need to move 10 times faster than they did during the last ice age merely to survive," he said.

He also noted that during the last ice age, 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, humankind with its infrastructure was not there to stand in the way of species migration, a factor which could threaten adaptation even more this time around.

Among animals, the WWF report - entitled "Global warming and terrestrial biodiversity decline" - said some of the species most at risk were the mountain pygmy possum of Australia, the Gelada baboon of Ethiopia and the monarch butterfly which winters in Mexico.



Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF's climate change campaign, told the news conference it was time to act to stop global warming and "prevent a catastrophe that would change our world out of all recognition."

"Global warming means a horrifying future for nature," she said. "World leaders must give top priority to reducing levels of carbon pollution".

WWF campaigners said governments should seize the opportunity at November's climate summit in The Hague in the Netherlands to ensure that tough and final rules were set for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Protocol, drawn up in 1997, is designed to commit industrialised countries to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases to an average of 5.2 percent below the 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.

Story by Kate Kelland


Rapid global warming threatens Arctic dwellers

Reuters News Service, Aug. 31, 2000

TORONTO - Climate change unseen since the Ice Age is threatening a third of the world's habitat and could leave natives in the Arctic in ruin, the Inuit people of Canada said yesterday.

A report released yesterday by the World Wildlife Federation For Nature warned that the Earth's temperature was rising at such a rapid speed that many animal and plant species will likely perish.

Violet Ford, policy advisor for the Canadian Inuit - also known as Eskimos - warned that destruction of Arctic wildlife will do likewise to the livelihood of the nearly 120,000 Inuit in the northern areas of Alaska, Greenland, Russia and Canada.

"If carbon dioxide concentrations double in the atmosphere in the next 100 years as predicted (in a report), the effects on the Arctic environment, animals and people are going to be catastrophic," Ford told a news conference in Toronto.

The report warned that 35 percent of the Earth's existing natural habitat could be "fundamentally altered" in the next 100 years. This would force today's animals and plants to adapt faster than the ancient sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoth, who roamed the earth 13,000 years ago, before dying at the end of the last Ice Age.

Only now the rate of warming is much faster, according to the report.

The loss of species could be as high as 20 percent in sensitive ecosystems such as northern Canada, the Tibetan Plateau and in southeastern Australia, according to the report.

The areas most affected by annual temperature increases, which could be between two and eight degrees Celsius (3.6 and 14.5 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, will be the boreal and Arctic regions. Here, estimates point to a 60 percent destruction of the habitat.

This comes as little surprise to the Inuit. They have noticed that near Hudson Bay, Canada's gateway to the north seas, ice is thinner and has formed seasonably later, affecting polar bears, which usually ride the thick ice slabs to hunt seals and voyage to their winter retreat.

They say that the warming of the tundra, the vast permanently frozen treeless zone lying between the ice cap and the timber line, has altered migration routes of caribou, the North American reindeer. The Inuit rely heavily on these animals as part of their sustainable way of life.

They also say they've noticed grizzly bears, wolverines and other insects and birds that are more commonly found to the south.

U.S. government researchers reported that average global temperatures over the last 25 years alone have been increasing at a rate equivalent to two degrees Celsius a century. Studies show the Arctic sea ice has also thinned over the last 30 years or so to six feet (1.8 meters) from 10 feet (3.1 meters) and has shrunk by around 6 percent since 1975.

"The Arctic is serving as the canary in the coal mine for the global environment," said Sheila Watt, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference-Canada. "This has been proven in the case of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and now its the case with global warming."

If the Inuit way of life should falter, forcing integration into conventional society, it would come at a time when they have been winning land claims from Canada's government, Ford said, allowing them to sustain their culture.

By splitting up the Northwest Territories, the Inuit created and are now running their own vast territory, Nunavut last April 1.

The birth of Nunavut, 770,000 square miles (2 million sq km) of barren rock, snow and ice, was a triumph for Inuit leaders who had campaigned for more than 20 years for the right to control their own destiny.

Representatives of 180 countries will meet in Lyons, France, next month to work out how the Kyoto Protocol international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions will be made to work.

The 1997 treaty will also be the subject of international ministerial talks in The Hague in November.