Climate change will be a major challenge for Australian wildlife and the effects are already making themselves known.
In past eras of natural climate change, species would have been better able to adapt as their habitats had not already been so greatly reduced and fragmented by agricultural and urban development.
The already threatened mountain pygmy possum, northern hairy nosed wombat, long footed potoroo, heath rat and kowari are among species not expected to cope with global warming. As temperatures and rainfall patterns change, suitable habitats for these species are predicted to shift in altitude or latitude, shrink or disappear altogether.
With a 1°C warming it has been predicted that the threatened mountain pygmy possum will lose its entire alpine habitat. The Australian Government's chief climate change advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, has warned that when atmospheric carbon concentrations reach 450ppm bringing a 1.3-2.6°C temperature rise it is expected that 5-23% of species will be at risk of extinction, while at 550ppm and a 1.6-3.2°C temperature rise, 8-39% of species will be at risk.
Coral dominated reefs like the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef are likely to largely disappear with a 2°C rise in sea temperature over the next 100 years, unable to tolerate the heat or the acidification of the oceans once the atmospheric carbon reaches 500 ppm.
HSI has secured legal recognition for the key threat climate change poses to Australian biodiversity under Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian threatened species laws, but to date action to mitigate the threat and help species adapt has fallen far short of what is needed.
If Australia is to avoid environmental catastrophe, the international community must agree to a global strategy for emission reductions that will stabilise atmospheric carbon levels substantially below 450ppm.
At the international negotiations, demands are being placed on developed countries like Australia to adopt emission reduction targets of 25-40% on 1990 levels by 2020. For the sake of our wildlife and natural icons like the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian public must demand at least this level of commitment from the Australian Government.
Ensuring urgent and effective climate mitigation strategies at the international and national level is a major campaign priority for Humane Society International.
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