Keep global warming below 2 degrees, warns IUCN

Posted: 29 November 2005

The parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, whose meeting opens in Montreal today, must keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or risk disaster.

That is the message of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) which said that any rise above that, from pre-industrial levels, would result in massive species extinctions and dramatic changes in ecosystems with severe consequences for human wellbeing.

"The Kyoto Protocol was an important milestone, but it is simply not enough. This conference must find new ways to achieve more serious emissions reductions after 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol expires," says Achim Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union.

Recent studies have even predicted that up to one million species could go extinct due to climate change. "Whatever scenario one may refer to, the number of reports of extinctions and changes in ecosystems are increasing already", IUCN said.

Forests and corals

Canada's boreal (northern) forests may be impacted by climate change more than many other regions. Boreal forests could decline in response to climate change, through factors such as increased incidences of diseases, pest infestations, fires, invasive species, severe weather events, or reduced rainfall.

While for some ecosystems there are only warnings for the future, in others the impacts of climate change are already visible.

"We now receive more and more evidence that corals in the Caribbean are dying at an unprecedented speed and scale. While coral bleaching cannot be attributed to climate change alone, nature is giving us plenty of warning signs to reduce our emissions and adapt our resource management strategies," says Carl-Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN's Global Marine Programme.

One-third of all amphibians and reptiles are threatened with extinction, with climate change being one of the causes, as shown by the Global Amphibian Assessment released earlier this year.

Humans at risk

Extinction of species and changes in habitats put human wellbeing at risk. Human livelihoods are affected if plant or animal species go extinct, since many communities use them as sources of food, fuel and income. Furthermore, changes in rainfall and temperatures will impact agriculture - the crops that are produced and the contribution that biodiversity makes to these production systems, for instance through pollination, water provision, or pest control.

"Poor communities in fragile ecosystems such as montane forests or drylands will be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Now is the time to accelerate our understanding of climate change impacts and local vulnerability, and apply adaptive approaches to agriculture, forestry and water management to reduce impacts on people's lives and livelihoods," says Stephen Kelleher, Senior Programme Officer for the IUCN Forest Conservation Programme.

While reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should be the most important target, climate change is already happening and we need to take steps to adapt.

Examples of adaptation strategies are forest landscape restoration to increase resilience to climate change by augmenting quality, quantity and diversity of forests or the restoration of floodplains to improve the buffer capacity of river systems.

But the hard facts remain that humanity is pumping too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and that global emissions are still increasing. Reducing emissions to stay below a 2 degree increase in temperature remains the first and foremost task of the parties to the convention.

Note: The parties to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change are also meeting in Montreal over the next two weeks.

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