One in six of all animal and plant species on Earth could become extinct from impacts related to climate change if human society does not dramatically reduce its emission of greenhouse gases, according to new research published in the journal Science on Thursday.
Conducted as a meta-analysis of existing research done on the possible impact of climate change on species loss, the new study—titled —found that the range of predicted loss went from no species loss at all (0%) to as much as 54% in extreme scenarios, but that a synthesis of the existing data and new modeling offered a clearer view of what the future may hold.
Mark Urban, professor of ecology at the University of Connecticut and lead author of the new study, says its most worrying findings are not set in stone but should come as a warning to humanity and world leaders that action on climate must come soon if the planet is to maintain its existing biodiversity and ability to support life. Though its conclusions are considered “predictive” and based on various models of what the future may look like, the study warns that as warming continues to increase in the coming decades the rate of extinctions could accelrate rapidly.
“We have the choice,” Urban told the New York Times in an interview. “The world can decide where on that curve they want the future Earth to be.”
And as Urban writes in the study:
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As the Guardian reports:
Even as the study arrived at its “dire” 16 percent extinction rate by assessing available research, Professor John J. Wiens, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, was among experts who told the Times the reality could end up much worse. According to Wiens, the number of extinctions “may well be two to three times higher.”
As the Times notes:
For his part, Urban seemed most interesting in making sure his research added to that of the broader scientific community which has called on government leaders to do act on climate. As he told the Guardian, “This isn’t just doom and gloom. We still have time. Extinctions can take a long time. There are processes that could be important in mediating these effects, for example evolution, but we really need to very quickly start to understand these risks in a much more sophisticated way.”