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Study: Warming 'Threatens Third of World Habitat'
August 30, 2000 12:52 pm EST

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - A third of the world's habitat is under threat from global warming and could either disappear or change beyond recognition by the end of this century, according to a World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) report Wednesday.

In Russia, Canada and Scandinavia up to 70 percent of habitats could be lost, while in the United States much of the spruce and fir forests of New England and New York state may be wiped out if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced.

"This is not some slow, controlled change we're talking about. It's fast, it's unpredictable and it's unprecedented during human civilization," Adam Markham, a co-author of the report, told a news conference in London.

The study based its predictions on what its authors said was a "moderate" projection that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double from pre-industrial levels during this century.

Markham, the director of the U.S.-based campaign group Clean Air -- Cool Planet, and co-author Jay Malcolm, of the University of Toronto, used climate and vegetation models to map out the potential risk to biodiversity in the future.

Markham said that as global warming accelerates, plants and animals will be forced to migrate to find new habitats. But the speed of climate change may mean many of them are not able to move and adapt fast enough.

"In some places plants would need to move 10 times faster than they did during the last ice age merely to survive," he said.

He also noted that during the last ice age, 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, humankind with its infrastructure was not there to stand in the way of species migration, a factor which could threaten adaptation even more this time around.

Among animals, the WWF report -- entitled "Global warming and terrestrial biodiversity decline" -- said some of the species most at risk were the mountain pygmy possum of Australia, the Gelada baboon of Ethiopia and the monarch butterfly which winters in Mexico.


Jennifer Morgan, director of the WWF's climate change campaign, told the news conference it was time to act to stop global warming and "prevent a catastrophe that would change our world out of all recognition."

"Global warming means a horrifying future for nature," she said. "World leaders must give top priority to reducing levels of carbon pollution."

WWF campaigners said governments should seize the opportunity at November's climate summit in The Hague in the Netherlands to ensure that tough and final rules were set for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Protocol, drawn up in 1997, is designed to commit industrialized countries to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases to an average of 5.2 percent below the 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012.


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