Climate change: new, big threat to protected areas | WWF

Climate change: new, big threat to protected areas

Posted on
09 September 2003
Durban, South Africa – Amidst heat waves, droughts, forest fires, and other extreme weather events over the past months, WWF warns at the 5th World Parks Congress that such climate change impacts will damage protected areas and other valuable habitats unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced drastically.

According to a new publication by WWF1, changing patterns of climate affect the natural distribution limits for species or communities, forcing them to migrate in response to changing conditions.

Around the world, changing conditions are resulting in the loss of rare species, such as the golden toad in Costa Rica and the edelweiss in the European Alps. Coral reefs are under threat due to rising sea levels and to coral bleaching due to of warmer sea temperatures. National parks around the world, from Canada's parks in the Arctic tundra to the Richtersveld National Park in Succulent Karoo in South Africa, have identified climate change as the main pressure causing habitats and species to shift beyond the park borders.

Protected area agencies could be faced with the daunting task of having to shift protected areas to keep up with moving habitats and ecosystems

"Since the last World Parks Congress 10 years ago, it has become abundantly clear that climate change is a new and major threat to protected areas," said Dr Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International. "World leaders must take steps immediately to reduce CO2 emissions if the world's protected areas are to avoid irreversible damage."

Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels - coal, oil, and gas - for energy. It accounts for over 80% of global warming pollution. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are now higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years. The main polluting industry sector are the electricity producers of the world, with a share of 37% of CO2 emissions. WWF has challenged key actors in the electricity-producing sector globally - utilities, politicians, and banks - to switch from coal to clean energy which include wind, solar, and biomass sources.

"If the World Parks Congress is to make a difference to protected areas over the long term, it must address the threat of climate change," said Dr Martin. "Ongoing conservation efforts risk to be futile if we do not combat climate change."

The need for long-term protection of national parks and other valuable protected areas is at the heart of the 5th World Parks’ Congress currently underway in Durban, South Africa.


1. The WWF brochure NO PLACE TO HIDE: Effects of Climate Change on Protected Areas was lauched today at the 5th World Parks’ Congress in Durban, South Africa

2. WWF has launched the first ever User's Manual for Building Resistance and Resilience to Climate Change in Natural Systems which presents solutions for coping with climate change impacts.

For further information:
Tanya Petersen
WWF International
Tel: +41 79 662 74 85

Martin Hiller
WWF International
Tel: +41 79 347 2256
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