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02 June 2021

Press Release


For immediate release

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FUTURE OF PUFFINS, EMPEROR PENGUINS AND SNOW LEOPARDS DEPENDENT ON THE OUTCOME OF COP26 - NEW WWF REPORT

New report reveals species and habitats at risk if warming is not limited to 1.5°C

Some of our most treasured species are in danger if world leaders fail to deliver strong commitments for the COP26 climate summit, according to a new report published today [2 June] by WWF.

Feeling the Heat: The fate of nature beyond 1.5°C of global warming’ outlines the effects of the global climate emergency on people and nature, and how the future of us all depends on humanity’s urgent response. 

The report highlights 12 species from around the world that are already experiencing the impacts of climate change; from puffins on UK coasts, to penguins in the frozen wilderness of Antarctica, to monkeys deep in the Amazon jungle. The vast scale and variety of impacts are now being felt on every continent, across all types of animal and plant life.

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme events, such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires, as well as warming oceans and rising sea levels, putting species – and their homes – under greater pressure. Many animals and plants cannot cope with the changing environment where their habitats may alter, food and water become scarcer, and seasons shift.

Here in the UK, some of our much-loved species are already feeling the heat. Mountain hares in the Highlands of Scotland are staying in their white winter coats long after the snow melts, leaving them more vulnerable to predators; while bluebells are blooming out of sync with the seasons, and fuzzy bumblebees are overheating as they work hard to pollinate our plants and crops. Further afield, snow leopards, sea turtles, frogs, coral, hippos and coffee plants are all at risk if global warming continues at its current rate.

Within a human lifetime, we have already seen extraordinary and unparalleled changes to our planet. Global wildlife populations have fallen an average of 68 per cent since 1970, while 2020 marked the end of the hottest decade on record. WWF warns that the current trajectory for our climate will create an unsafe home for people and nature, with every half-degree increase in temperature bringing additional pressures. 

Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation, at WWF, said:

“Nature is our life support system, and its continued destruction is not only devastating local wildlife and communities, but creating a hotter, less stable planet, putting our very survival at risk. This isn’t a far-off threat; the impacts of climate change are already being felt and if we don’t act now to keep global warming to 1.5°C we will slide faster and faster towards catastrophe.

“While a half-degree increase beyond this may not sound significant, it will permanently damage a variety of natural ecosystems, leading to the extinction of even more species across the globe and risking the lives of millions more people worldwide.”

The climate emergency is already disrupting food security and livelihoods for many. Intense droughts in Northern Tanzania are causing the loss of crops and livestock production for Maasai farmers; while homes and communities in low-lying coastal regions – including the Fijian islands and Chittagong in Bangladesh – are being lost to flooding and rising sea levels, with the least developed countries suffering the most.

The report outlines why it is essential for the UK government, as hosts of the critical UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November, to ensure the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is kept on the table.

Current pledges and targets are projected to lead to a temperature rise of 2.4°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, which will be catastrophic for people and nature. 

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said: 

“If we are to secure a future for some of our most iconic species and habitats, and indeed ourselves, then 2021 must be a turning point. World leaders must seize the chance at COP26 to build a greener, fairer future – one with nature at its heart.

“As hosts, the UK Government needs to show it can deliver on its ambitious climate targets by publishing a credible action plan without delay, outlining the steps it will take to cut harmful emissions and reach net zero. 

“At the same time, ministers must recognise nature’s vital role in helping to deliver a 1.5-degree world, and urgently scale up efforts to protect and restore nature at home and overseas, including critical places like the Amazon and the polar regions. The decisions made this year will determine the future prosperity and health of us all, and of our one shared home.”

The report states that limiting warming to 1.5°C will not be possible without urgently halting nature loss around the world – failure to do so will undermine all other efforts to tackle the climate crisis. WWF is calling for strengthened global efforts to restore nature, alongside rapid and deep cuts to harmful emissions, including transforming agricultural systems and the way we use our land.

WWF’s global conservation efforts include the use of nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change and benefit people and nature. The report spotlights four projects around the world, including the protection of critical forests in Colombia and the restoration of seagrass meadows in the UK.  

To find out more about WWF’s work to tackle the climate emergency, and to donate to its Climate Crisis Fund, visit: wwf.org.uk/climatecrisis.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

Images available here.

The full report is available here. It highlights the effects of global warming on a variety of species: Atlantic puffin, mountain hare, bluebell, bumblebee, emperor penguin, snow leopard, leatherback turtle, Darwin’s frog, tropical coral, hippopotamus, Arabica coffee and black-headed squirrel monkey.

WWF’s flagship Living Planet Report 2020 revealed population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have fallen an average of 68 per cent globally since 1970 – more than two thirds in less than 50 years.

The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C and Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate set out the current impacts and projected risks of 1.5°C, 2°C and higher levels of global warming.

Current pledges and targets mean end of century warming is now estimated to be 2.4°C. (Climate Action Tracker warming estimate, 04/05/2021, updated following President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate).

WWF's Climate Crisis Fund supports projects and initiatives around the world that are directly tackling the climate crisis. Donations will fund crucial work such as protecting the Amazon, restoring forests and carbon absorbing seagrass, to high level advocacy work, changing policy and ensuring governments and companies make climate positive decisions. Supporters of this new fund can give as much as they'd like, as often as they'd like, and will receive monthly email updates on the impact their donations are having.

About WWF
WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, active in nearly 100 countries. Our supporters – more than five million of them – are helping us to restore nature and to tackle the main causes of nature’s decline, particularly the food system and climate change. We’re fighting to ensure a world with thriving habitats and species, and to change hearts and minds so it becomes unacceptable to overuse our planet’s resources. 
WWF. For your world.  
For wildlife, for people, for nature. 
Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk