Feeling the heat

Future of puffins, emperor penguins and snow leopards dependent on the outcome of COP26, says WWF

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 2 June 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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Some of our most treasured species are in danger if world leaders fail to deliver strong commitments for the COP26 climate summit, according to a new report published today (02 June) by WWF.

‘Feeling the Heat: The fate of nature beyond 1.5°C of global warming’ outlines the effects of the global climate emergency on people and nature, and how the future of us all depends on humanity’s urgent response. 

The report highlights 12 species from around the world that are already experiencing the impacts of climate change – from puffins on UK coasts to penguins in the frozen wilderness of Antarctica and monkeys deep in the Amazon jungle.

The vast scale and variety of impacts are now being felt on every continent, across all types of animal and plant life.

Extreme weather

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme events, such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires.

At the same time we are witnessing warming oceans and rising sea levels, all of which puts species – and their homes – under greater pressure.

Many animals and plants cannot cope with the changing environment where their habitats may alter, food and water become scarcer and seasons shift.

Here in the UK, some of our much-loved species are already feeling the heat. Mountain hares in the Highlands of Scotland are staying in their white winter coats long after the snow melts, leaving them more vulnerable to predators.

Bluebells are blooming out of sync with the seasons and fuzzy bumblebees are overheating as they work hard to pollinate our plants and crops.

Further afield, snow leopards, sea turtles, frogs, coral, hippos and coffee plants are all at risk if global warming continues at its current rate.

‘Nature is our life support system, and its continued destruction is not only devastating local wildlife and communities, but creating a hotter, less stable planet, putting our very survival at risk. This isn’t a far-off threat; the impacts of climate change are already being felt and if we don’t act now to keep global warming to 1.5°C we will slide faster and faster towards catastrophe.

‘While a half-degree increase beyond this may not sound significant, it will permanently damage a variety of natural ecosystems, leading to the extinction of even more species across the globe and risking the lives of millions more people worldwide.’

MIKE BARRETT
Executive director of science and conservation, WWF

Creating an unsafe home

Within a human lifetime, we have already seen extraordinary and unparalleled changes to our planet. Global wildlife populations have fallen an average of 68% since 1970, while 2020 marked the end of the hottest decade on record.

WWF warns that the current trajectory for our climate will create an unsafe home for people and nature, with every half-degree increase in temperature bringing additional pressures.

The climate emergency is already disrupting food security and livelihoods for many.

Intense droughts in northern Tanzania are causing the loss of crops and livestock production for Maasai farmers.

Homes and communities in low-lying coastal regions – including the Fijian islands and Chittagong in Bangladesh – are being lost to flooding and rising sea levels, with the least developed countries suffering the most.

’Seize the chance at COP26’

The report outlines why it is essential for the UK government, as hosts of the critical UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November, to ensure the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is kept on the table.

Current pledges and targets are projected to lead to a temperature rise of 2.4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, which will be catastrophic for people and nature. 

‘If we are to secure a future for some of our most iconic species and habitats, and indeed ourselves, then 2021 must be a turning point. World leaders must seize the chance at COP26 to build a greener, fairer future – one with nature at its heart.

‘As hosts, the UK government needs to show it can deliver on its ambitious climate targets by publishing a credible action plan without delay, outlining the steps it will take to cut harmful emissions and reach net zero. 

‘At the same time, ministers must recognise nature’s vital role in helping to deliver a 1.5-degree world, and urgently scale up efforts to protect and restore nature at home and overseas, including critical places like the Amazon and the polar regions. The decisions made this year will determine the future prosperity and health of us all, and of our one shared home.’

TANYA STEELE
Chief executive at WWF

Nature and climate

The report states that limiting warming to 1.5°C will not be possible without urgently halting nature loss around the world – failure to do so will undermine all other efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

WWF is calling for strengthened global efforts to restore nature, alongside rapid and deep cuts to harmful emissions, including transforming agricultural systems and the way we use our land.

WWF’s global conservation efforts include the use of nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change and benefit people and nature.

The report spotlights four projects around the world, including the protection of critical forests in Colombia and the restoration of seagrass meadows in the UK.

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