The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is distancing itself from past claims that global warming could cause mass extinctions.
A leaked IPCC draft report says that there is “very little confidence that the models currently predict accurately the risk of extinction.”
The leaked report, obtained by Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper, says that an “acute lack of data” have added to doubts over past claims made by climate scientists of mass extinctions in the future. “[B]iological findings have increased doubt over the expected species extinction,” says the IPCC.
In its 2007 climate assessment, the IPCC said that there was a “medium confidence” that 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species were at risk of going extinct if global temperatures rose between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees Celsius this century. If temperatures rose by 3.5 degrees Celsius the IPCC predicted “significant extinctions” would occur — between 40 and 70 percent of species.
Environmental groups have also warned of mass extinctions due to global warming. The Nature Conservancy says that “one-fourth of Earth’s species will be headed for extinction by 2050 if the warming trend continues at its current rate.” The group adds that “polar bears may be gone from the planet in as little as 100 years and that several “U.S. states may even lose their official birds as they head for cooler climates — including the Baltimore oriole of Maryland, black-capped chickadee of Massachusetts, and the American goldfinch of Iowa.”
But Der Spiegel reports that the IPCC is shying away from such claims and gives no concrete numbers for how many plant and animal species could be at risk if global temperatures increased.
While the IPCC does say that the pace of global warming is making it hard for some species to adapt, the lack of basic data makes it impossible for there to be any hard evidence to back up this claim.
Zoologists actually fear that the focus on global warming has drawn attention away from issues that actually cause extinctions, like destruction of natural habitats.
“Monoculture, over-fertilization or soil destruction destroy more species than several degrees temperature rise ever assets,” University of Rostock zoologist Ragnar Kinzelbach told Der Spiegel.
The UN’s final climate report that will include its analysis on extinctions is set to be released in late March. Scientists and government representatives from around the world are meeting this week in Japan to hammer out a summary for policymakers on the UN’s key findings.
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