Last year, the World Wildlife Fund released a sobering report. Our report demonstrated that wildlife populations worldwide have declined by 52 per cent over the past 40 years, in large part driven by the habitat changes caused by human economic activity, including increasing global greenhouse gas emissions.
This year, in Paris, the leaders of national governments have what may be the last opportunity to unite for meaningful action to slow the pace of climate change. There are reasons for optimism – for example, Canada’s Liberal Government appointing a Minister of Environment and Climate Change is an important signal that a country recently known for obstructing international progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions will now play a far more constructive role. But there are also reasons for concern. The situation is serious, and action is needed urgently.
The need for urgency is amplified by the release of WWF’s new report: Impact of Climate Change on Species. The report shows the impact of the changing climate on seven iconic species and three lesser-known but essential species that are severely threatened. Here in Canada polar bears, blue whales, bumblebees and humans are most acutely feeling the impacts of climate change, and around the globe Sumatran orangutans, African elephants and green turtles are most threatened. These are just examples of the wide ranging impacts our rapidly changing climate is having on nature: according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 35 per cent of bird species, 52 per cent of amphibians and 71 per cent of warm-water reef building corals are particularly vulnerable.
Important as they are, the risk to individual species is only part of the challenge: underlying changes to land-based and marine ecosystems that are threatening these species are serious, and have the potential for massive impacts on people and our planet.
People are threatened species. We are at risk. In Canada, for example, we use approximately 3.7 times our share of the Earth’s available resources each year, a path that is clearly unsustainable.
Many people around the world are already feeling the impact of a rapidly changing climate. Here in Canada, northern Inuit communities that rely on historic sea ice conditions to accurately and safely hunt and fish for their primary food sources are feeling the impacts of climate change more acutely than those of us in the south. With longer ice-free summer seasons and increasing variability of sea ice and weather, climate change is forcing hunters to change their traditional habits – and their way of life.
With great expense and difficulty, some people and some communities might be able to adapt to longer-term climate change; however, with the speed of climate change we are experiencing, and are projected to experience, it will not be possible for all species to adapt quickly enough to survive. As we’ve seen with the devastating losses to wildlife populations in the past 40 years, climate change can cause species to disappear in places they once thrived. A recent study in Science found that one in six species is at risk of extinction because of climate change – if we do nothing about it.
Climate change is the biggest challenge facing our natural environment, and to address this challenge and safeguard the future for wildlife and for ourselves, we need to work together – world leaders and cities, businesses and faith groups, communities and banks – to implement the solutions we know today are possible.
Recent announcements by Canada’s Government indicate that the country is ready to become a leader at the upcoming climate negotiations. We at WWF-Canada will be in Paris this December to help the Government achieve its goal and to help ensure that strong commitments for action are agreed to by the international community. Specifically, we must negotiate a globally significant agreement that will commit to phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
At WWF-Canada, taking care of nature so it can take care of us – all of us, for all time – is our number one priority. Together, it is possible.
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) on sea ice, off the coast of Svalbard, Norway. © naturepl.com / Steven Kazlowski / WWF