Leading evolutionary biologist, Professor John Wiens said he believes we are "on track for the planet’s sixth mass extinction event"
New research suggests that half the species on the planet may be failing to cope with the level of climate change the world has already experienced.
Nearly half of the species included in a new study from the University of Arizona have experienced “local extinctions” related to climate change.
A "local extinction" is said to have occurred when a species can no longer be found at a location where it once lived.
The research compared survey data on 976 species of plants and animals documented around the world 50 or 60 years ago to data on those same species gathered 10 years ago.
The study included 716 different kinds of animals and 260 plants.
The results show 47% of the nearly 1,000 species studies have already suffered local extinctions.
Leading evolutionary biologist, Professor John Wiens - who authored the study - said the results suggest that local extinctions related to climate change are “already widespread” despite the fact that levels of climate change remain, “modest relative to those predicted in the next 100 years.”
Professor Wiens found the frequency of local extinction was “broadly similar” in different climactic zones and habitats all around the world.
Freshwater habitats experienced the heaviest consequences of the warming atmosphere with 74% of the species studied experiencing the local extinctions.
This was compared to 46% of land species and 51% of marine species.
Speaking to The Independent in the UK, Professor Wiens warned that unless the effects of climate change can be rapidly reversed - he believes we are on track for the planet’s sixth mass extinction event.
“What it shows is species cannot change fast enough to keep up with a small change in climate. That’s the big implication – even a small change in temperature and they cannot handle it,” he said.
He warned that the most alarming aspect of the study is that these extinctions have occurred with a less than one degree Celsius increase in global medial temperature - with predictions of a 2 to 5 degree increase due in the coming decades unless the effects can be reversed.
The report suggests the number of extinctions will, “almost certainly increase as global climate continues to warm in the coming decades.”
Professor Wiens told The Independent that the good news is that it hasn’t happened yet - but warned, “if we don’t do anything it seems like that’s going to happen in the next 50 to 100 years.”
He called the election of Donald Trump to the White House a “global disaster” and said his decision to appoint renowned climate science denier, Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency - coupled with his threats to pull the US out of the Paris Climate Accord - are “two bad signs.”
“People are already having serious problems with food security. People are going to die and it’s going to be the fault of our country and other big polluters,” he said.