As this report details, there are numerous ways that global warming is compounding the stresses that Endangered and Threatened species in the United States are already under. Globally, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 20 to 30 percent of the world's species will be at an increased risk of extinction if global temperature increases exceed 1.5 to 2.5° C (3 to 5° F) above pre-industrial levels. We must take action now if we are to protect endangered species both today and in the future.
The United States Congress needs to pass comprehensive climate change legislation that both significantly reduces the sources of global warming pollution and also addresses the impacts of global warming we are already seeing today.
Currently, the U.S. Congress is considering climate change legislation. To truly protect wildlife, legislation needs the following three policies: 1) planning and funding to help wildlife adapt to climate change, 2) CO2 emissions targets based on what the best available science indicates is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, and 3) protection of existing environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.
In the summer of 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed global warming legislation. The bill contains important provisions instructing federal and state agencies to create adaptation plans to benefit our nation's natural resources and lessen the impacts of global warming. It also allocates some money to implement these plans. As the U.S. Senate debates legislation, it is important these provisions be kept and the funding expanded and clearly dedicated to meet this need. Currently, natural resources safeguarding language is included in the Senate's primary climate change legislation sponsored by Senators Kerry and Boxer.
Senators Baucus, Bingaman, T. Udall and Whitehouse have also introduced separate legislation to protect wildlife and wild places from climate change. The Natural Resources Climate Adaptation Act addresses the impacts of climate change on natural resources such as forests, coastlines and wildlife habitats, and on the people and economies that depend on those resources.
Working to lessen the impacts of climate change alone will not be enough to protect wildlife, fish and plants from the increased risk of extinction brought by global warming. The emissions of heat-trapping gases like CO2 must be dramatically and quickly reduced. Emission reduction targets in global warming legislation must be based on what the best available science indicates is needed to avoid the worst impacts of global warming to humans and wildlife alike. For even a fifty percent chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2° C from pre-industrial levels, the IPCC states a need to reduce emissions from 1990 levels 25 to 40 percent by 2020. More recent recommendations go further and state that we should stabilize global CO2 levels to 350 ppm, which is below our present day level of 389. In addition to setting the strongest 2020 target possible, global warming legislation should contain provisions to respond to emerging climate science and any identified need to set deeper and more accelerated emission reduction targets.
As new legislative measures are developed to combat global warming, they should not preempt or curtail existing laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, but rather supplement them in a mutually reinforcing manner. By exempting the Clean Air Act, the House-passed legislation eliminates the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) ability to crack down on global warming pollution from new sources and from the nation's oldest, dirty power plants and other existing industrial sources. Any final legislation must not include these types of exemptions to environmental laws.
The United States clearly needs to demonstrate leadership on climate change. Negotiating an effective and binding international agreement is essential. Furthermore, the Department of the Interior and the National Oceans and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have crucial roles to play in helping our nation's wildlife, fish and plants survive the global warming impacts we have begun experiencing. Global warming must be factored into all endangered species related decisions now made in order to help prevent species from disappearing forever. The Interior Department‘s Fish and Wildlife Service has taken an important initial step by drafting a global warming plan for their areas of work. This is good progress and it should be complimented by similar efforts in all the other land, water and wildlife agencies of the U.S. Government.
To learn more about these issues, please visit www.StopExtinction.org, where you can also join ESC's Activist Network to receive updates and announcements about how you can help protect and restore America's wildlife, fish and plants.