New Zealand’s “living fossil” the tuatara could be one of the first creatures to face extinction due to climate change.
Tuatara lay their eggs in the soil. The gender of the offspring of this relic of the dinosaur age is determined by soil temperature. If temperatures are above a certain level, all the young are born as males, raising obvious problems for the continuation of the species.
Climate change is also likely to have an impact on other native species, and could lead to extinctions of our already vulnerable threatened species. The United Nations convention on biological diversity describes the relationship between climate change and biodiversity:
It is now widely recognized that climate change and biodiversity are interconnected. Biodiversity is affected by climate change, with negative consequences for human well-being, but biodiversity, through the ecosystem services it supports, also makes an important contribution to both climate-change mitigation and adaptation. Consequently, conserving and sustainably managing biodiversity is critical to addressing climate change.
Change, but not as we’ve known it
Since the middle of the 20th Century, the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere has been increasing. The global temperature is predicted to increase by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees this century.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere resulting from human activity such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation is the main cause of the temperature increase. New Zealand is unusual compared to most countries in that half of our greenhouse gas emissions are produced by agriculture.
These conclusions about climate change are supported by a wide consensus among the scientific community worldwide – they are disputed by only a small number of scientists.
Climate change has serious implications for the global environment. Increasing global temperature is causing rising sea levels, expansion of deserts, melting of ice caps and glaciers, increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as floods, storms and droughts, reduced agricultural yields, and increasing extinctions of plant and animal species.
Governments around the world, including our own, are debating how we can best combat climate change. Most governments, including New Zealand, have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
New Zealand needs to take a responsible, leading role in international talks on how to best tackle climate change worldwide beyond the initial Kyoto stage of talks. Climate change threatens our future if we don’t deal with it now.
As well as more obvious effects, such as rising sea levels submerging low-lying areas of our coast, and reduced water flows in our rivers, climate change is likely to have many direct effects on our native plants and animals. Already we can see many ways in which climate change is having a detrimental impact on some of our most unique and special wildlife and wild places.
What Forest & Bird is doing to help
Forest & Bird is helping tackle climate change by raising public awareness of the problem – and what people can do to make a difference – as well as advocating for government commitment to global efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
We also advocate for sustainable energy developments, preferring renewable energy technologies with lower impacts on biodiversity like wind and geothermal.
By creating wildlife corridors & supporting our native biodiversity through pest eradication, planting and political lobbying, we are placing our species in a stronger position to fight climate change.