Climate Change Will Likely Have a Severe Impact on Animals

The 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change began here in Cancun, Mexico, today, though folks are very pessimistic about achieving anything meaningful during the two-week event.  At best most are hoping for some kind of delay and some small, positive moves forward towards the Conference of Parties 17 (COP17) in 2011.

As has been well-established by scientists around the world, virtually every wildlife species on earth will be impacted by climate change to one degree or another.

The degree of impact will depend not just on changes in climatic conditions themselves, but on associated biological, geographic, and human socio-economic factors. The pressures on biodiversity due to climate change are likely to be severe.

Climate change has been shown to change the timing in bird and other animal migrations. Climate change may also affect species breeding ranges and times, animal size and weight, or a host of other species-survival factors. The threat of climate change to wildlife and biodiversity is real and happening now. It is not speculative. A handful of species have already become extinct due to climate change, and others are threatened with sharp declines. For example:

• The golden toad of Monteverde, formerly found in Costa Rica, was the first species to become extinct due to climate change, according to renowned scientist Thomas Lovejoy.

• The Australian white lemuroid possum is also thought to be extinct because of warmer temperatures and weather changes, though scientists are still trying to confirm.

• The Aldabra banded snail, once found only on a small atoll in the Indian Ocean, has been declared extinct because of decreasing rainfall during the last three decades.

Many other species, including birds, frogs, ice-dependent marine mammals, and insects are also being impacted as a result of disrupted habitat.

IFAW focuses on addressing the immediate threats to species that can be mitigated effectively in the short term so that wildlife can continue to survive and adapt to changing climatic and habitat conditions in the long term.  This includes reducing illegal and unsustainable commercial hunting and trade in wildlife species at risk due to global warming, protecting the habitat and corridors that wildlife need to survive and recover their numbers, and mitigating directly the immediate impacts of climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and fires on wildlife and its habitat, along with affected livestock and companion animals in human communities.

For more information on IFAW's work to protect wildlife and other animals threatened by climate change, see IFAW’s publications:

“On Thin Ice: The Precarious State of Arctic Marine Mammals in the United States Due to Global Warming,” which discusses the impacts of climate change on polar bears, bowhead whales, ringed seals and other ice-dependent marine mammals. See also “The Economics of Polar Bear Trophy Hunting in Canada,” jointly produced by IFAW and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

“Unnatural Disasters: The Impacts of Climate-related Emergencies on Wildlife, Livestock, and Companion Animals,” which discusses the science behind climate-related disasters and the impacts of disasters on both human communities and the wild and domestic animals upon which they rely.

“Killing with Keystrokes: An Investigation of the Illegal Wildlife Trade on the World Wide Web,” which discusses IFAW’s groundbreaking 3-month, global investigation into the Internet-based trade in protected and endangered wildlife species.

-- PT

For more information on IFAW efforts around the world visit

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