Most marine species will face extinction without limiting fossil fuels

Most marine species will face extinction without limiting fossil fuels

A new study paints a shocking picture of the fate of marine life if human contributions to climate change are not contained. If greenhouse gases continue to be emitted at high rates, by the end of the century — just 78 years away — nearly all marine species could face extinction, the researchers found.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change on Monday, looked at how some 25,000 species will be able to cope with a variety of emission scenarios that were illustrated by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In a guest post to carbon abstract, Study authors Daniel Boyce and Derek Tittensor wrote that “climate change is rewiring marine ecosystems at an alarming rate” and that their work essentially created a “climate report card” for marine life.

“Just as a report card rates students in subjects like math and science, we use a data-driven approach to score individual species on 12 specific climate risk factors across all parts of the ocean where they live,” they said.

Under the highest emissions scenario, called SSP5-8.5, current carbon dioxide emissions would double by 2050.

The proportion of nearly 25,000 marine species at high or critical climate risk under SSP5-8.5 by 2100. Red shading indicates most affected areas.  / Credit: Boyce et al./Nature Climate Change

The proportion of nearly 25,000 marine species at high or critical climate risk under SSP5-8.5 by 2100. Red shading indicates most affected areas. / Credit: Boyce et al./Nature Climate Change

Following this path, the world can expect up to 5.7°C (more than 42°F) warmer by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times – spurring more agricultural problems, devastating natural disasters and forced migration, they said. scientists. According to the study, such a scenario would put about 90% of marine life in the top 100 meters of the ocean at high or critical risk of extinction.

The most endangered species are the biggest predators, particularly those that are hunted by people for food, such as tuna and sharks. Endemic species, those found in a single geographic area, are also much more vulnerable.

“The findings also suggest serious impacts for people who are most dependent on the ocean,” Boyce and Tittensor said.

Low-income countries that rely on fisheries and those that rely heavily on fish such as cod, anchovies and lobster for food and revenue would bear this burden, the researchers said.

But, on the other hand, if the world were to enact severe cuts and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 2ºC, “virtually every species” examined by the researchers would have their risk of extinction drastically reduced. It would also help stabilize ecosystems and could be extremely beneficial for food insecure nations, the researchers said.

“Overall, our results indicate that climate risk to marine life is strongly dependent on the magnitude of future emissions,” the researchers concluded.

This map shows how the risk of extinction changes for species as the world reduces global emissions.  Purple shading shows decreasing risk.  / Credit: D. Boyce, et al/Nature Climate Change

This map shows how the risk of extinction changes for species as the world reduces global emissions. Purple shading shows decreasing risk. / Credit: D. Boyce, et al/Nature Climate Change

President Biden recently signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which among other things provides $369 billion to fund energy and climate projects with the aim of reducing carbon emissions by 40% in 2030.

And while this has been heralded by climate experts as an important step towards limiting emissions, it also comes shortly after the Supreme Court ruled to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate plant emissions. It also comes just months after the United Nations released a report that governments around the world only continued to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure and deforestation.

Boyce and Tittensor said this means mitigation is essential. If countries don’t dramatically increase their efforts to reduce emissions, the planet will be up to 6.3ºF warmer in 80 years – and the worst-case scenario, SSP5-8.5, is possible.

But nations must also focus on adaptation because even if emissions stop today, the world will continue to warm based on what it has already suffered, Boyce and Tittensor said.

“The reality is that climate change is already impacting the oceans, and even with effective climate mitigation, they will continue to change,” they wrote in the guest blog post. “So adapting to a warming climate is crucial to building resilience for both oceanic species and people.”

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