6.5: The Overall Impact of Climate Change
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It should be clear to anyone that climate change has the potential to greatly restructure the world’s ecosystems, ecosystem services, and national economies. Many coastal areas will experience rising sea levels and increased flooding, while inland areas may experience desertification and less favourable crop growing conditions. Poor Africans will suffer the consequences disproportionately because of their limited mobility, high dependence on ecosystem services, and general lack of disaster management infrastructure (Serdeczny et al., 2017).
If we are to mitigate the far-reaching impacts of climate change, we must carefully monitor and study changes in biological communities and ecosystem functioning, and how they relate to changes in climate and other stressors. While we may lose some species in a warmer world, we can also prevent many extinctions with pro-active wildlife management (Section 11.4). It is likely that many existing protected areas will no longer preserve some of the rare and threatened species that currently live in them (Hole et al., 2009; Smith et al., 2016, but see Beale et al., 2013), necessitating careful planning when establishing new protected areas (Section 13.7.2). Even if climate change is not as severe as predicted, the steps we take now to safeguard biodiversity can only help in future.
In 2007, the world economy was close to collapse because of the misdeeds of the financial services industry. Considering climate change’s record in causing societal disruption and suffering, and our increasingly globalised world (in which regional disruptions are felt much wider than before), politicians are rightfully concerned about our ability to adapt to a widespread restructuring of the world’s natural resources (Dietz et al., 2016). While the consequences of climate change are closely associated with the environmental sciences, it is truly, at its core, a human rights concern.
The widespread and dramatic impacts of climate change rightfully deserve much attention. But it is also important to remember that we continue to destroy habitat at a massive scale and increasing pace, and this loss of habitat is currently the main cause of species extinctions. The highest priorities for conservation must continue to be the preservation of healthy, intact, and connected ecosystems, and the restoration of degraded ecosystems. These actions will simultaneously reduce the impacts of climate change, by reducing carbon emissions, increasing carbon sequestration, and giving wildlife more opportunities to adjust their ranges, in their own time, as the world’s climate changes.