Yesterday, I was delighted to help launch a new book, Birds and Climate Change, by BTO's James Pearce-Higgins and my RSPB colleague, Rhys Green. It is an impressive and important book - probably the most comprehensive synthesis yet of the science of climate change, the impacts on nature and the relative merits of conservation responses.
Reviewing published evidence and using case studies (on species such as red grouse, pied flycatcher and Ethiopian bush-crow), the authors draw out important principles which should help practitoners and policy-makers make sense of the emerging evidence.
On skim-reading the book over the weekend (made possible thanks to the excellent summaries at the end of each chapter) I found myself reflecting on the speed at which climate change has become such a dominant feature in nature conservation.
Twenty years ago, I was just about to start my Masters in Conservation at University College London. Then, however, climate change hardly featured on the course. Instead, we focused on the legislative and policy framework, environmental economics, the growing demand for biodiversity strategies, the target-led approach to nature conservation and, if I remember correctly, identifying grasses.
Looking back, I am now a little surprised at this. Twenty years ago, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change had just into force when the fiftieth nation ratified it following the Earth Summit in 1992. And, twenty years ago, the RSPB agreed its first energy policy promoting the use of targets for greenhouse gases.
Climate change is now, of course, a mainstream consideration in conservation research, policy, planning and practice.
With nature in trouble at home (60% of species assessed declining in my lifetime) and globally (c40% of amphibians, c30% mammals and 13% of birds at risk of extinction), climate change is compounding existing threats (habitat destruction, over-exploitation, the introduction of non-native species and pollution)
It is impossible, therefore, to ignore climate change when assessing conservation needs of species, sites or landscapes.
James and Rhys are two of our most prominent conservation scientists and even the most ardent of climate sceptics should be shaken by this book. It offers all the evidence you need to trump anecdotal nonsense.
So, I'd recommend you buy the book, read the book, then do something about climate change.
In the meantime, in the spirit of John Crace, here is my digested summary...
...current trends of greenhouse gas emissions are likely to continue leading to future global warming of up to 5 degrees C by 2100 or up to 7 degrees C during winter months in the Arctic
...species are, on average, moving polewards at a rate of 0.8km every year
...species ranges may decline by 11-23% if they are able to colonise new suitable climate space or 41-74% if they can't
...some 10-25% of bird species may be committed to extinction over a 2-6 degree C range of warming
...87% of energy production is responsible for 57% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and energy demand may double between now and 2050.
...we need to change the way we generate and use energy: renewable energy technologies if badly deployed can harm wildlife, but need to be deployed at pace through sensible planning, complemented by energy demand measures and better land management that locks up or sequesters carbon
...a key adaptation response is to reduce existing threats
...conservation adaptation to climate change should be built on the foundations of existing conservation management (eg protected areas), requiring modification according to the magnitude of the threat
...there is still a lot we don't know, so we need to invest in more ecological esearch to inform future adaptive conservation management
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