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Climate change threatens nature from coffee to Arctic fox-forum

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 19 Sep 2012 15:42 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Alister Doyle

LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Climate change is a threat to everything from coffee plantations to Arctic foxes and even a moderate rise in world temperatures will be damaging for plants and animals in some regions, experts said on Wednesday.

Habitats such as coral reefs or the Arctic region were among the most vulnerable to global warming, scientists said at a conference in Lillehammer, south Norway, organised by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

Almost 200 governments agreed in 2010 to a goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, seen as a threshold for dangerous changes such as droughts, floods, desertification and rising sea levels.

"At 2C you have impacts. The idea that 2C is a safe level doesn't really hold up," said Jeff Price, coordinator of the Wallace Initiative, an international group seeking to model the effects of climate change on 50,000 types of plant and animals.

"And when you start moving beyond 2C the impacts on biodiversity start rapidly increasing through much of the world," he said. Greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are the main cause of warming, according to a U.N. scientific panel.

Price said Colombian coffee plantations, for instance, would have to be shifted to higher altitudes and onto more shaded northern slopes as temperatures rose. "It's going to require wholesale movements of coffee plantations in Colombia," he said.

That could put coffee more into competition with habitats for rare tropical animals and plants.

FOXES, LEMMINGS

In Scandinavia, the Arctic fox is among animals under pressure since climate change is reducing the availability of its main prey, the lemming. And red foxes, bigger than their Arctic cousins, are moving north as temperatures warm.

"In a bad lemming year there won't be many Arctic foxes born," Anouschka Hof, of Umea University in Sweden told the GBIF, which is funded by governments. Arctic foxes turn white in winter and brown in summer.

Warming temperatures are also be a threat to many northern plants. The northern bilberry, for instance, may gain niches such as on the coast of Greenland in coming decades but will lose far bigger areas to the south.

"There are not many place where the northern plants can move into. The Arctic is mainly ocean," said Inger Greve Alsos of the University of Tromsoe in Norway. "We expect a loss of range for many plants."

Price, of the University of East Anglia in England, said that a peak in global greenhouse gas emissions in coming years, at the latest by 2030, would help buy time to help species adapt to climate change.

"You generally have a halving of the impacts" on wildlife if emissions peak in coming years, he said, compared to policies of letting them keep rising. But he said the benefits of curbs would not be felt worldwide.

An early peak to greenhouse gases would give the biggest respite to animals in places such as the Amazon basin, southern Africa, southern Australia, parts of Russia and Asia.

Plants would also benefit most in the Andes, southern Africa and Australia, according to modelling by the Wallace Initiative, named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-author with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution in 1858.

Governments are aiming to agree a pact by 2015 to slow climate change, entering into force by 2020. China, the United States, India and Russia are the top national emitters of greenhouse gases. (Editing by Sophie Hares)

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