Natural World Review 2016: The Hottest Year on Record & Two Thirds of Species Could Decline in Half a Century (Part 1)

This year has been an interesting period for the natural world with climate change digging even deeper into the human consciousness. As the impact on the planet is becoming ever more prominent, with temperatures rising and sea ice shrinking in the Artic.  Even more species being are finding their way onto the red list, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump becoming president of the USA, leaving 2016 on a knife edge and uncertainty of what 2017 will bring for the environment.  Before we can think ahead we must reminisce about this year. It has not all been negative, there have been positive steps forward as well.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies found that the first six months of 2016 were the warmest globally since modern temperature records began in 1880.  The average temperature of the planet in the months January to June was 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 Fahrenheit) warmer than the same period in latter part of the nineteenth century. Overall this had a drastic impact on the extent of the sea ice during the summer period.  

Warming water in the South Pacific Ocean because of El Nino and man-made emissions  has resulted in a global bleaching event, which has already affected ninety three percent of the Reefs in the Great Barrier Reef.   

In June, Britain went to the polls and chose to leave the European Union. The implication of this for  wildlife are not yet known.  But we can speculate: the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) largely controls the UK farming industry. For example, farmers receive subsidies for setting aside fields to encourage ecological initiatives such as wild flower meadows. Overall, however, this policy has not been that successful for wildlife as subsidies are paid regardless of the actual impact they have had on the environment.  Some working in the conservation industry believe that Brexit could offer a creative and positive change in how we look at nature in the United Kingdom. Martin Warren, the chief executive of Butterfly Conservation, has said,  “CAP does both good and bad things, but leaving the EU gives an opportunity to look at the whole system of farm payments and do something really innovative for wildlife”. 

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and the Living Planet Report, revealed that two-third of species could decline in the half-century from 1970 to 2020.  The report states that to prevent this happening, we need to reform the systems in which we produce food and energy, be globally committed to protecting biodiversity and support sustainable development. However, the report did come under some criticism for its methodology: the report is published every two years and it looked at 3,700 different species, such as birds and fish, amphibians, and reptiles. These make up six percent of vertebrate species in the world and this included species population records that went back to 1970.  There is a larger amount of data on groups of animals in the Artic than on tropical species.  Authors of this report claim they did this because of wanting to make sure that the large amount of information on declining species in the tropics did not temper the overall picture. Not everyone agrees. Stuart Pimm, a professor in ecological conservation at the Duke University said, “When you go elsewhere, not only do the data become far fewer, but in practice they become much, much sketchier… there is almost nothing from South America, from tropical Africa, there is not much from the tropics, period. Any time you are trying to mix stuff like that, it is very very hard to know what the numbers mean”.  





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