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Climate migration, reef shark decline, global warming risks: 3 stories you may have missed

© Gerry Allen

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. The great climate migration

In the next century, millions of people are likely to flee their homes to escape the impacts of climate change.

The Story: From severe heat waves to rising sea levels to extended droughts, the impacts of climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people worldwide, reported Abrahm Lustgarten for The New York Times Magazine. Recent research revealed that 19 percent of the world’s land could be inhospitable by 2070, which will largely impact areas in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. According to new climate models and economic data compiled by the New York Times, this extreme heat will likely have a disproportionate impact on populations in Central America, which could result in a mass migration of more than 30 million people toward the U.S. border over the next 30 years.

The Big Picture: The influx of large numbers of climate refugees could exacerbate conflicts over resources and put increased pressure on cities around the world, experts say. For example, reports show that many communities around Lake Chad have migrated to other areas of Nigeria due to rising temperatures and unpredictable rain patterns, which has intensified conflict over resources such as fertile soil and fresh water. According to The New York Times climate models, countries could help limit the impacts of climate change that are driving these migrations by drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, even under the best case climate scenarios, many populations will still face the severe consequences of global warming over the next decade — and experts agree that countries must begin to prepare for climate migrations by creating more flexible immigration policies.

Read more here

2. Reef sharks are in major decline worldwide

Overfishing is driving reef sharks to near extinction, according to a new survey.

The Story: In the largest reef shark study ever completed, researchers discovered that sharks were absent from the waters of 58 countries that they have historically been found in, reported Riley Black for National Geographic. By setting up more than 15,000 baited camera traps in 371 reefs across the world, the scientists captured footage of some reef shark species, including grey reef sharks and Caribbean reef sharks, but found that a fifth of the reefs they surveyed had no sharks at all. According to the study’s authors, this decline can be largely attributed to overfishing to meet the demand for shark meat and fins around the world.

The Big Picture: “The good news is that if we fully protect areas from fishing, marine life and sharks can bounce back,” said Enric Sala, one of the study’s authors. As apex predators, sharks are critical to keeping the entire food chain balanced in a healthy marine ecosystem. Sharks can also help boost local economies through shark ecotourism programs, which generate more than US$ 314 million a year. According to experts, establishing marine protected areas and implementing sustainable fishing guidelines — such as creating catch limits and outlawing fishing gear that can hurt sharks — is crucial to conserving shark species.

Read more here.

3. How much will the planet warm if carbon dioxide levels double?

If global emissions continue on their current trajectory, the best-case scenario of planetary warming will no longer be possible, according to new research.

The Story: A new study found that if humans double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, global temperatures will likely rise between 2.6 degrees Celsius (4.68 degrees Fahrenheit) and 4.1 degrees Celsius (7.38 degrees Fahrenheit), reported John Schwartz for The New York Times. This range is narrower than the current range of warming accepted by climate scientists — between 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to 4.5 degrees Celsius (8.1 degrees Fahrenheit). While the worst case scenario of global warming is now lower than previously thought based on this new range, the study also rules out the possibility of keeping global temperature rise below 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) if atmospheric carbon dioxide doubles, which is likely to happen before the end of the century based on current emissions trends. To calculate this range, scientists drew from samples of sediment and tree rings, temperature records dating back to the industrial revolution and satellite data of Earth’s atmosphere.

The Big Picture: “Narrowing the uncertainty [of temperature increase] is relevant not only for climate science but also for society that is responsible for solid decision making,” said Masahiro Watanabe, an author of the study. Research shows that global temperatures have already exceeded 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels due to human activities that have driven the release of massive amounts greenhouse gas emissions. To avoid the worst case scenario of global warming, experts stress the importance of using this new range as a baseline for setting targets for emissions reductions under the Paris Climate Agreement because countries must now make even more dramatic cuts to emissions than previously thought to avoid the most severe impacts of the climate crisis.

Read more here.

News Spotlight

From good wine, a direct path to the wonders of nature

A wine critic living in New York City, Eric Asimov shares how the wine industry has helped to cultivate his relationship with nature — and exposed him to the negative impacts of unsustainable farming.

Threats to coastal and marine ecosystems and the need for conservation at scale

In an interview with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Conservation International’s Marine Climate Change Director Jennifer Howard discusses the negative impacts of climate breakdown on coastal ecosystems, including widespread deaths of coral reefs and extreme flooding. She also stresses the importance of investing in marine conservation projects and technology to improve ocean health, fisheries health and livelihoods.

READ MORE: The oceans are on the brink. Here are 3 ways to save them

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International.

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Cover image: A reef shark in Fiji (© Gerry Allen)

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