27 Nov 2015

The Messengers - what birds tell us about the threats from climate change

The Messengers
By Finlay Duncan

Birds are among the best studied species in the world, making them great messengers for the effects of climate change.

As world leaders gather in Paris to negotiate a global climate change agreement at the UN COP21 summit, a new report, jointly published by BirdLife International and US Partner the National Audubon Society, details the global severity of the threats from climate change.

The Messengers, released today, gathers hundreds of peer-reviewed studies from around the world illustrating the many ways climate change threatens us and birds.

The fact climate change will result in more losers than winners is an overriding theme. It is likely that twice the number of species will be worse off from a changing climate than the number of species that will benefit. Most bird species are expected to experience shrinking ranges, which will increase the risk of extinction for some. Population declines may also be felt more widely where species are not able to shift their distributions as quickly as the climate is changing.

It’s not just birds who’ll be affected in this way. Ecological communities and interactions between species will be disrupted overall. We too face many threats, with a rise in the number of extreme weather events and greater prevalence of disease. By the year 2100, it’s expected that an additional 52 million people in 84 different countries will be vulnerable to coastal storm surges. Lower crop yields will impact the amount of food we can produce, increasing the risk of malnutrition for many.

But the report also includes a strong message of hope. It details examples in which BirdLife Partners, leaders in nature-based solutions, are helping birds and communities become more resilient in a warming world. Examples include the creation of a new mainland colony for the African Penguin, with climate-induced shifts in fish stocks partly responsible for their dramatic decline in numbers in South Africa. In Europe too, conservation efforts are helping species to adapt to a changing climate; for example, with core breeding sites for Eurasian Bittern under threat from rising sea levels in the south coast of the UK, the creation of new habitats is leading to population increases.

The Messengers report hopefully demonstrates that solutions from nature can deliver a series of benefits to people and to biodiversity, whilst at the same time offer an effective and accessible response to climate change.

The report is available to view in full here.

The official website for The Messengers is: http://climatechange.birdlife.org

Read BirdLife International's official position on climate change here.

The production of this report was made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.