Action Against Severe Global Warming Threat To Biodiversity

22 February 2001 | News story

Gland, Switzerland (IUCN) 22.2.2001. IUCN-The World Conservation Union. IUCN has taken decisive action in response to the serious damage being done to species and natural systems by the growing threat of global climate change.

With climate change a priority issue for IUCN, a workshop of experts was held this week (19-21 February) to identify the implications for biodiversity. The workshop coincided with the release of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which describes how recent climate changes have already affected many biological and physical systems.

Climatic changes during the past 20-30 years have severely damaged the most sensitive biological systems, particularly coral reefs and tropical cloud forests. These systems are known to have the highest levels of biodiversity, with new species still being discovered.

"Coral reefs are facing a very uncertain future. A combination of climate change and the many other human-induced stresses affecting them may eliminate them as functional ecosystems. Reef Check, an international monitoring programme found that in 1998 alone, 10% of the world's coral reefs died from higher temperatures associated with global warming", says workshop participant Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland, Australia.

"The available evidence points to a potential massive impact on the globally significant karoo semi-desert and Cape Floristic Kingdom of South Africa", says Guy Midgley of the National Botanical Institute, South Africa, and the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Science.

Several frog species have shown rapid declines which are believed to be linked to climate change, and projected changes are likely to exceed the ability of some species and ecosystems to adapt.

The workshop gathered diverse expertise on a wide range of ecosystems from mountains to oceans. There was unanimous agreement among the experts that climate change should be addressed by conservation planners and policy makers, as one of the most serious and immediate threats to biodiversity.

Building on the IPCC report findings and the workshop results, IUCN will now coordinate a research and monitoring programme. This will identify actions needed and lead to guidelines for policy makers to help minimise the impact of climate change on species and habitats. IUCN, through its 7,000 member Species Survival Commission, will start by compiling a list of species and ecosystems most threatened by climate change to help prioritise conservation action.

"Projected changes in the global climate are likely to cause a far greater scale of damage to currently affected systems, and will eventually surpass other threats," says Brett Orlando, who is leading the climate change effort as part of IUCN's Biodiversity Programme.

"We hope our workshop recommendations will be taken seriously with the resumed climate talks later this year," he adds.

Tasks emerging from the workshop to be coordinated by IUCN include:
· Identify the species and habitats most affected by climate change.
· Work to include climate change implications as a standard feature of species status assessments, conservation planning, and protected area design (including changes/additions to protected areas as needed).
· Identify and fill the current information gap through monitoring and mapping at regional and global scales.
· Identify funding sources for research and awareness campaigns.
· Increase awareness of climate change impacts.

For further information contact

Anna Knee or Andrew McMullin, IUCN Species Programme Communications Officers
Tel: +41 (0)22 999 0153
Email: alk@iucn.org or mcmullina@iucn.org