The implications of the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change for globally significant biodiversity areas

R. Warren (Lead Author), J. Price, J. VanDerWal, S. Cornelius, H. Sohl

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Climate change is already affecting species and their distributions. Distributional range changes have occurred and are projected to intensify for many widespread plants and animals, creating associated risks to many ecosystems. Here, we estimate the climate change-related risks to the species in globally significant biodiversity conservation areas over a range of climate scenarios, assessing their value as climate refugia. In particular, we quantify the aggregated benefit of countries’ emission reduction pledges (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions and Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement), and also of further constraining global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, against an unmitigated scenario of 4.5 °C warming. We also quantify the contribution that can be made by using smart spatial conservation planning to facilitate some levels of autonomous (i.e. natural) adaptation to climate change by dispersal. We find that without mitigation, on average 33% of each conservation area can act as climate refugium (or 18% if species are unable to disperse), whereas if warming is constrained to 2 °C, the average area of climate refuges doubles to 67% of each conservation area (or, without dispersal, more than doubles to 56% of each area). If the country pledges are fulfilled, an intermediate estimate of 47–52% (or 31–38%, without dispersal) is obtained. We conclude that the Nationally Determined Contributions alone have important but limited benefits for biodiversity conservation, with larger benefits accruing if warming is constrained to 2 °C. Greater benefits would result if warming was constrained to well below 2 °C as set out in the Paris Agreement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395–409
Number of pages15
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
Early online date14 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

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