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The impacts of global warming on species and habitats are clearly evident in the 21st century. Massive wildfires, severe cyclones, heavy rains, storms, rapid bleaching of coral reefs, and more natural disasters continue to increase year-round due to rising temperatures. While humans struggle to face the severe impacts of climate change, the world’s biodiversity is rapidly vanishing right before our eyes. If most biodiversity is lost, what will the future hold for us?
Unless greenhouse gas emissions reduce globally, scientists predict that the climate crisis will worsen. Due to current emissions, almost 50 percent of species worldwide are expected to lose most of their suitable climatic conditions by 2100. Experts have used annual projections of temperatures from 1850 to 2100 to estimate the timing of biodiversity exposure to deadly climatic conditions. Based on those projections, experts predict that global warming could cause sudden ecosystem and species loss much earlier than expected, probably during this century.
Global warming and climate change can affect habitats and species differently. For example, shifting, contraction, or expansion of ecosystems, increase in the number of diseases and invasive species in a habitat, sudden and extreme weather conditions, changes in food availability, and the failure of environmental relationships with other species- such as the loss of essential pollinators or mutualistic nutrient fixers.
Currently, several species are capable enough to escape the dangerous impacts of climate change by migrating and shifting their distribution towards the north or the south. However, this escape route may not be available in the coming years. Human actions have challenged the situation by ignoring, exploiting, and destroying ecosystems, resources, and habitats, including potential migration corridors.
According to the director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and renowned expert on biodiversity, Peter Raven, the impacts of global warming will make preservation and conservational efforts even more problematic. As climatic conditions intensify, conservational areas will not be able to shift due to the urban areas and agricultural zones surrounding them. It will eventually make protected regions even more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, whether it be rising sea levels or warmer temperatures.
If greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as it is today, global temperatures could rise by more than 1.5 degree Celsius by 2030. The major effect of global warming on biodiversity is the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural calamities. During 2019 and 2020, Australia witnessed intense wildfires that destroyed around 97,000km2 of forests and habitats. The intensity of the wildfire was worsened by the rise in temperatures. After the fires, the number of vulnerable species in the region increased by 14 per cent.
The rise in temperatures has the potential to change the ecosystem drastically over long periods by changing what can grow and survive within them. Evidence suggests that the reduction in water vapour in the atmosphere since the 1990s has led to 59 percent of vegetated areas showing a reduced growth rate globally.
Global warming is causing biodiversity loss both on land and at sea. Currently, the world is facing rapid biodiversity loss in tropical oceans due to marine heatwaves. Sudden collapses of aquatic ecosystems will likely increase further during the 2030s and 2040s. Life in the oceans is being threatened due to the rise in carbon emissions, causing coral reefs to decline since the mid-1990s drastically. Abrupt biodiversity loss in oceans and lands, affecting tropical forests and marine ecosystems by the 2050s, is predicted due to high greenhouse gas emissions.
These projections use historical temperature models to determine the limit that each species can survive under. As temperature rises to new levels a species has never experienced, experts have limited evidence of their survival ability. While a few species may be able to adapt to the high temperatures, most of the world’s biodiversity is likely to perish.
Biodiversity loss has also been noticed on islands and around specific locations in the tropics, particularly where distinctive species evolve in isolation from the rest of the world. It occurs due to climate change, human-introduced alien species, and activities like hunting and deforestation- they account for 80 percent of known extinctions.
Most threatened ecosystems and species are found in regions with a large human population—for example, the Western Ghats of India and Southeast China. The Caribbean and Latin America have suffered huge losses of reptiles, fish, and amphibians due to an increase in emissions, habitat loss, and disease, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2020.
Loss of biodiversity has been occurring around the world for thousands of years. However, scientists are still confident that there are ways to improve the situation. International actions so far have been inadequate. Humanity must learn to use energy more efficiently in the coming years. Production of power, usage of resources, industrialization, urbanization, etc., must be monitored carefully.
Based on the above finding, there is an urgent need for global warming and climate change mitigation. The rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the 21st century will help to save several species and habitats from destruction and extinction. It will also protect the life-sustaining benefits they provide to the world.
Limiting the rise in temperatures to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius can help reduce climate change risk of extinction, according to experts. If limited, the world’s biodiversity will be able to adapt to the new climatic conditions- by searching for new habitats, alterations in behaviour, or by conservational efforts and campaigns.
As ecosystems change due to global warming, there is also a need to help communities in high-risk areas adapt their livelihoods to their biodiversity. Projections and studies, such as the above mentioned, in the 21st century can help provide an early warning system by identifying the regions most at risk of sudden environmental disruptions.
There is no doubt that global warming is causing biodiversity loss. Our planet today continues to sustain a million organisms and species. Humanity can still save the world’s biodiversity with exemplary political leadership and daily efforts as humans. Ours is the first generation that understands the issue of global warming and biodiversity loss- and the last to do something about it.