Dramatic impacts of climate change on animals must be addressed

c. Alexey Neshin via FLICKR - UNDP in Europe and Central Asia c. Some Rights ReservedWith the recent United Nations Framework on Climate Change negotiations in Warsaw now concluded, it is important to understand two aspects of the recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report titled “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.”

The IPCC seems to be moving beyond general questions of whether climate change is real and caused to some degree by human activities.

The report states:

“warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia”

and that

“it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

To summarize, the planet’s climate is changing, and it’s our fault.

However, the report is much less certain about what the impacts of climate change will actually be. The IPCC has scaled back some of its previous predictions and stated that the most likely global scenario would be a 1.5 degree or less overall temperature increase, and not until sometime after this century.

It also downplays some of the more extreme prophecies. For example, the report states that it is “very unlikely that the AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) will undergo an abrupt transition or collapse in the 21st century.”

For you movie buffs, this is the scenario in which the ocean currents bringing warm water/air northward to Europe and North America suddenly stop, causing a new ice age like the 2004 Hollywood movie The Day After Tomorrow.

Instead of trying to predict dire global consequences, the report focuses on probabilities of regional or sub-regional changes based on climate variability – ice cap and glacial melting, changes in monsoon seasons and intensity, variations in ocean temperatures and currents, increased periods of drought, etc.

Though some commentators have taken a “see, it’s not so bad” view of this, others have noted that the science is only improving, and it’s beginning to show that the various changes we feel at the local level and think may be symptomatic of a larger problem may indeed be consequences of global warming. 

For those interested, the report “Summary for Policymakers” does a nice job of breaking out conclusions and displaying data on clear graphs broken out regionally (oceans and land masses, not geopolitical regions), in case it’s useful for discussions with policymakers and supporters. For the very interested, the full report is available at www.ipcc.ch.

IFAW’s position is that “climate change is having a dramatic impact on animals and must be addressed through global action.”

We must take action wherever possible to reduce all anthropogenic threats to animals to give them the best possible chance to withstand the pressures that climate change has caused and will continue to cause to the natural and human-constructed environments.

The nations of the world, beginning with the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have an obligation to limit emissions to a level where the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. Individuals and communities can play their parts by reducing their carbon footprints through lifestyle changes.

We do know that climate change is causing the Arctic’s ice to melt, putting the survival of sea-ice dependent species such as polar bears, walruses, ice-pack seals and some species of whales at great risk.

For instance, polar bears depend on summer sea ice for hunting, breeding and denning. For more on this, see our 2006 report, On Thin Ice.

In the 2009 report, Unnatural Disasters, IFAW outlined the severe consequences that climate-change related natural disasters are having on the world’s wildlife, livestock, and companion animals. Unlike humans, who have the capacity to shelter themselves from disasters, domesticated animals and wild animals alike are often left vulnerable and exposed to dangerous weather conditions.

There are many other species yet studied that may also be affected in large part by climate change. As time goes by, the scientific community will understand these potentially dire consequences more and more.

It is imperative to remember; not only does more evidence point to the fact that climate change is real and a result of human activity, but that there are victims other than the human race.

Hopefully, the global community can continue to monitor this situation and come up with a plan of action in due time.


Read the IPCC report summary here.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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