As world leaders discuss ways to limit global warming at the UN Climate Summit next week, concerns for the future of humankind are not the only considerations. The impact on animals could be devastating, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and nowhere will the effect be seen as acutely as in the Arctic.
“The Arctic, in particular, has been ground zero for the impacts of climate change. It’s warmed more than any other part of the world, and the impacts of that are very significant,” Nikhil Advani, the director of climate, communities, and wildlife at the WWF, told Cheddar.
He said one of the most significant threats to Arctic animal populations is the loss of sea ice.
“Species like polar bears and walrus that depend on sea ice are essentially gradually losing their habitat,” he said. He referenced research finding that the Arctic could see ice-free summers within the next 20 years.
“With the melting sea ice, obviously all that water has to go somewhere,” he explained. “We’re talking in the order of feet by the end of the century.”
He said coastal species living in other parts of the Earth will suffer amid rising sea levels. Advani pointed to sea turtles, which hatch their eggs along beaches, and mangroves — trees and shrubs that grow in coastal water — which provide “natural barriers” against storm surge. “All of these will be impacted by sea level rise,” he said.
“Humans are one of the coastal species that will be really impacted by this. There are so many human settlements along the coasts,” Advani added.
He also praised the effort to ban plastic straws for raising awareness for the need to reduce our use of plastics but warned: “that is a drop in the ocean.”
He called for reducing our plastics, water, and electricity consumption.
“Our consumerism at large — we consume plastics, fossil fuels, all these natural products from forests — and all of that is something that we have to address,” he said. “Our ecological footprint living in developed countries like this is massive.”
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.