We often talk about global climate change as a problem of the future, and that frankly isn’t helping the situation, because climate change is having very real, and very serious, effects on the world already.
To date, 450 species of plants and animals have already experienced local extinctions due to climate change. Scientists predict that global temperatures will continue to rise over the next few decades, which could bring this number even higher.
Local extinction is not the same as species extinction. It simply refers to a species disappearing from a specific part of its range. Generally, in this case it refers to creatures moving to cooler and higher-altitude parts of their ranges. This happens more in the tropical and subtropical areas, which is especially troubling because the majority of plant and animal species live in the tropics.
Local extinctions may not sound as bad as outright species extinction, but they can devastate regional ecosystems. As plants and animals that form important parts of local food webs leave the area, they leave niches unfilled, which may or may not be taken over by other species. The vacuums left by these local extinctions can result in the loss of other plant life as animals they depend on to help them propagate vanish, or due to the rapid uptick in pest species that would normally be kept in check by now-extinct creatures.
All of this is happening while global temperature increase has been less than one degree Celsius. The current global goal is to limit warming to less than two degrees by the end of the century, though if we don’t take action now, we could see as much as a five-degree increase by the middle of the 21st century. By that point, we can expect to see much more than “just” local extinctions.