From the 2015 Paris Climate Accords to this year’s “code-red for humanity” warning issued by the IPCC, it seems 1.5 ºC has been in non-stop circulation. As government leaders, organisations, and businesses at COP26 deliberated how they planned to keep the Earth’s temperatures increasing beyond the golden number, Norfolk-based scientists have continued their public talks explaining why it is so important for us to keep to our climate goals.
At his recent talk at the Norwich Science Festival, titled “The Impact of Climate Change on Norfolk’s Biodiversity”, Professor Jeff Price of the Tyndall Centre goes into the harrowing details of what a world above 1.5 ºC looks like. According to Price, the lowest level of extinction risk posed by climate change within the 1.5 ºC target is already 1000 times the normal background rate. He goes on to explain, “if we can hold things down to 3 degrees, we’re looking at the extinction of 20-25 per cent of species within the next 20-100 years. With mass extinction events historically taking about 28 million years, to see this level of extinction within 100 years should be worrying”.
At a 4 ºC increase, much of Southern Africa, the Amazon and Australia are projected to experience a total ecosystem collapse, with 75-100 per cent of species being lost. Notably, current pledges made by world nations are setting us on a path of a 3.2 ºC temperature increase. However, almost half of all insects, including Norfolk’s pollinators, will not survive this climate, and agriculture will be heavily impacted. Dr Price draws on one of humanity’s most beloved natural commodities to exemplify the seriousness of the situation: chocolate. The cacao plant from which the beans are used to create the candy is largely pollinated by the Cacao midge in Ghana. No insects mean no pollinators, and ergo no more of the plants we look to as food sources.
What happens if we manage to meet the goal of a 2.7 ºC increase? “In Norfolk, we have very few refugia for plants, with the most exposed places being Norfolk Woods, Foxley Woods and Cley [Norfolk Trust Properties]”, he states. At an even lower emissions scenario, where we limit warming to 2 ºC, Price shows 50 per cent of amphibians lose their climate suitability, with the local protected species of great-crested newt becoming completely unsuitable. This loss of ability to exist and function within the warmer climate extends to 68 per cent of macro moths, and 75 per cent of grasshoppers and bush crickets. In a solemn conclusion of the statistics, Professor Price says, “we’re changing what we’re used to seeing- that symphony of crickets and frogs at night will change.”
This begs the question, what can we do to prevent this change? He lists a number of solutions for the audience, including putting a price on pollution, consuming and wasting less, and the usual “reduce, reuse and recycle”. Professor Price heavily expounds on what is becoming a more popular and impactful method of climate action- voting and educating.
The talk ends with a poignant and hopeful quote from the Professor: “If humans can cause the Anthropocene, they can also change directions to move towards the Gaiacene, and learn to live as part of nature, not just live with it.”