Climate change has already touched almost all life on the planet, even under moderate rates of global warming, according to a report published Thursday in the journal Science.
An international team of researchers found 82 percent of key biological processes necessary for healthy ecosystems had been impacted by the phenomenon. The changes have been felt even though the world is just 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels.
“We’re already seeing salamanders shrink in size, we’re seeing migratory birds change their migratory routes, we’re seeing species interbreeding now, because of just a small degree of warming,” said James Watson, a professor at the University of Queensland and senior author of the report.
Scientists are currently gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, to work out details of the landmark Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius. Anything hotter than that will likely cause a slew of troubling events: melting glaciers, rising seas, extreme weather and an uptick in disease.
But aside from severe impacts for humanity, those shifts will drastically change worldwide biology.
“The fact is, it’s not one or two species in one or two places,” Watson said. “It’s entire systems and entire processes. All the things which live in those systems are almost certainly changing their behavior, the way they live, the way they move.”
The recent election of Donald Trump has cast serious doubts on the future of the Paris deal. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter and the president-elect, a denier of climate change, has threatened to pull out of the accord. A similar move by America with the Kyoto Protocol set the fight against climate change back 20 years.
Leading environmental groups have stressed the need for urgency in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
“The climate crisis is already having very serious consequences for life on the planet,” said Jean Su, associate conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The 1-degree Celsius rise in temperature already has the world spinning out of control in terms of the widespread harms to species, and also people ... The need for strong climate action couldn’t be clearer or as necessary as right now.”
Su said the election of Trump “will purely galvanize grass-roots support for environmental action.”
Watson said the report was “not just doom and gloom,” noting there was still time, albeit limited, to act on “low-hanging fruit” like environmental protection and investment in renewable energy. But ecosystems will only tolerate so much.
“There’s no doubt we’re in for dramatic warming still,” he said. “We’re literally going into climatic spaces that are beyond the norm. With another degree, it’ll almost certainly be 100 percent of species affected. What we don’t know is how those species are going to react.”