Climate change could kill as many as 17% of all the animal and plant species on Earth, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Science. Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut and the lead author of the study, said that the rate of extinction will accelerate as the planet warms in the future.
Actual number of extinctions could be 2-3 times higher
But other experts believe that the situation could be even worse than Mark Urban’s estimates. John Wiens of the University of Arizona says that the actual number of extinctions could be “two to three times higher.” If carbon emissions continue to rise at the present rate, global temperature will rise by 4.3 degrees Celsius by 2100 compared to the pre-industrial revolution period, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At that rate, one in six species will disappear.
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Urban said that endemic species with smaller ranges, reptiles and amphibians faced greater threats of extinction. If we want to avoid the acceleration of global extinctions, we need to adopt strategies that limit climate change, he said. Currently, 2.8% of species on our planet face the risk of extinction due to the climate change that has already occurred.
How various species are responding to climate change
In case the global temperature rises 2 degrees Celsius and then holds at that level, 5.2% species will eventually disappear. But if the temperature continues to rise at the current rate and goes up 4.3 degrees Celsius from the pre-industrialization era, one in every six species will vanish, said Urban. Scientists predict climate change will trigger more frequent storms, an increase in sea levels, drought, floods and fire.
Various species are responding to global warming by shifting their ranges. In 2003, a group of scientists studied 1,700 animal and plant species. Researchers found that, on average, their ranges shifted 3.8 miles toward Earth’s poles per decade for suitable habitats. If carbon emissions continue at current levels, a large number of species will not be able to find suitable habitats.