Migratory species face particular risk from climate change – UN report

16 November 2006

Climate change poses a dramatic threat to the world’s migratory species, altering or reducing habitats and forcing some species to change or even abandon long-standing migration routes, according to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Climate change poses a dramatic threat to the world’s migratory species, altering or reducing habitats and forcing some species to change or even abandon long-standing migration routes, according to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report from UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species, compiled with the assistance of the United Kingdom, finds that sustainable management of such species is becoming increasingly urgent as climate change has an ever greater impact.

It gives many examples of species already affected by climate change: green turtles are suffering higher levels of tumours, thought to be linked to rising water temperatures that are more conducive to infections, while the North Atlantic right whale has faced a decline in its main food source, plankton, because of shifts in major ocean currents.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said migratory species “are in more ways more vulnerable as they use multiple habitats and sites” during their travel cycles, and this trend will only worsen.

“So we need to bolster rather than clear habitats, reduce pollution to the land, freshwater and the marine environment, more sustainably manage water supplies for people and wildlife and enact other measures to assist animals and plants to cope and to adapt in a climatically changed world,” he said at the report’s launch in Nairobi.

Unless climate change is checked, Mr. Steiner added, it will be increasingly difficult to meet the agreed target to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity – the range of animal, plant and other life in the world – by 2010.

He also stressed that improved management of biodiversity brings valuable economic benefits, citing as an example the hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign exchange generated by tourism in Kenya’s national parks.

The report states that numerous changes in the length, timing and location of migration routes have been documented, with some species abandoning migration in extreme cases.

Meanwhile, a separate study by UNEP’s office for Latin America and the Caribbean, made jointly with the Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Ministry, has highlighted the regional impact that climate change is and will have on development.

The study shows that the rising frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the Caribbean, the reduction in size of glaciers in the Andes and Patagonia and changes in rainfall patterns all “point to the impact that global warming could have on the region.”

 

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