Implications of the Paris Agreement for Biodiversity and Conservation Planning (IMPALA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Tyndall Centre


Climate change creates risks to biodiversity, in particular by changing the climate in which species live, and making it unsuitable for them to continue to live there. In December 2014, under the United Nations Paris Agreement countries agreed to 'pursue efforts to ...limit the temperature increase to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels'. IMPALA seeks to understand these risks to biodiversity arising in a future world in which humans limit climate change to 1.5C warming compared to pre-industrial times, and to compare this with the situation when there is 2C warming (hereafter referred to as 1.5/2C). It seeks understand the relative risks both globally, and at the regional scale. Species also face a challenge in being able to track their preferred climate space across a landscape, both in terms of the speed of movement required and in dealing with natural and/or manmade obstacles to movement. Several previous studies have projected extensive range loss and increased extinction risks across large fractions of species globally or regionally due to climate change e.g. amongst 50,000 species studied, 57+/-5% of plants and 34+/-7% of animals are projected to lose over half their climatic range for a warming of approximately 3.6C above pre-industrial levels. But what difference does 0.5C make? Is there really much difference between 1.5C and 2C of warming when it comes to terrestrial biodiversity? Examination of the large-scale potential changes in climatic ranges of 80,000 species at 2C versus 2.5C suggests that there may be a large difference, at least in some parts of the world. These differences have the potential to put much of the past investment in conservation at risk. This study will look at the areas where it makes the most difference to constrain warming to 1.5 versus 2C, looking specifically at Global Protected Areas, and key conservation regions such as biodiversity hotspots. It will identify which Protected Areas are most, and least, at risk from biodiversity changes at 1.5 vs. 2C, and where corridors between protected areas would do the most good. IMPALA is designed to inform decision makers in the UK government and also within environmental NGOs, in particular World Wildlife Fund-UK. Environmental NGOs are interested in conservation planning, that is deciding which areas of the world need to be brought into the protected area network, or protected by other means such as working with local people to protect habitats for species. Since it is not possible to protect all natural ecosystems, NGOs and Governments need to prioritise, and climate change will affect that prioritisation by changing the places where species can live. IMPALA will inform WWF-UK, other NGOs, and Governments whether the existing protected area system is robust to warming of 1.5/2C, which areas are most at risk, and which areas act as refuges where species can still live after 1.5/2C global warming has occurred. IMPALA considers how species try to move to track climate change, and will also identify places that need to be protected to enable species to move and colonize new areas in response to climate change. Complicating the efforts to allow ecosystems (and biodiversity) to adapt naturally to climate change may be the efforts needed to hold climate change to 1.5C of warming. Many proposals to limit warming to 1.5 and 2C of warming require large areas to be converted to bioenergy crops. There is the risk that it may be necessary to convert large areas of primary/secondary forest and other ecosystems to bioenergy crops, so that agricultural land can continue to grow food. As habitat loss is a major factor in biodiversity loss, then it might potentially be worse for biodiversity at 1.5C warming than 2C warming. This study will look for win-win solutions for biodiversity and mitigation in order to promote Article 2 compliant mitigation - that is, mitigation that hinders neither ecosystems from adapting naturally and the production of food.

Planned Impact

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement of December 2015 emphasizes the 'urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties' mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C'. This project will inform decision makers in government and non-governmental organisations about the relative risks to biodiversity in a world that warms by 2C compared to 1.5C, both globally and regionally. It will also provide spatially explicit information about the extent to which the global protected area network is fit for conserving biodiversity under these levels of warming, and whether and where additional protected areas are needed to allow species to persist and move with climate change. Finally, information about indirect linkages arising between mitigation related land use change (e.g., bioenergy cropping) and biodiversity conservation will be provided. Because mitigating climate change to 2C or 1.5C is likely to require a large amount of bioenergy cropping, in particular to support bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCs) to provide 'negative' emissions', there is the potential for competition for land for growing biofuels, producing food, and preserving biodiversity in a world where climate is changing. The project staff have worked previously with members of the former UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, and with members of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the project builds directly on previous projects funded by these two institutions. Hence, these are the two specifically identified beneficiaries of this project, with DECC members now comprising the Science Team within the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Both the Science Team and WWF-UK (and elsewhere) will benefit from a better understanding of the global and regional benefits of constraining warming to 2C as opposed to 1.5C globally and regionally, which will inform them in their discussions about global scale mitigation efforts in the wake of the Paris Agreement. It will also inform them about the issue of bioenergy cropping which is often associated with the higher levels of climate change mitigation needed to limit warming to 2C or 1.5C, and the extent to which competition for land between bioenergy cropping, food security and biodiversity conservation might occur. WWF-UK and the wider WWF global network will benefit from information about the resilience of the world's protected area network to climate change, and the location of needed potential additional protected areas that could be created to better conserve biodiversity with these levels of warming. As this data will be publically available then other scientific groups (see Academic Beneficiaries), other non-governmental conservation organizations (e.g., Wildlife Conservation Society) and Governments (e.g., Australia, Brazil and throughout the Amazon), with whom the team also has links, will also benefit. This will better inform their conservation efforts. Overall these impacts act to increase the effectiveness of climate change policy, and to increase quality of life globally through biodiversity conservation.


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Smith P (2018) Impacts on terrestrial biodiversity of moving from a 2°C to a 1.5°C target. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description In the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the United Nations is pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, while earlier aspirations focused on a 2°C limit. With current pledges, corresponding to ~3.2°C warming, climatically determined geographic range losses of >50% are projected in approximately 49% of insects, 44% of plants, and 26% of vertebrates. At 2°C this falls to 18% insects, 16% plants, and 8% vertebrates and at 1.5°C to 6% insects, 8% plants, and 4% vertebrates. When warming is limited to 1.5°C as compared with 2°C, numbers of species projected to lose >50% of their range are reduced by ~66% in insects, and by ~50% in plants and vertebrates.
Exploitation Route They will help provide information about the benefits of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, which will help inform cilmate policy makers. The database we produced is now providing information to organisations working on biodiversity conservation on the ground in North and South America.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description We held a collaborative workshop with World Wildlife Fund. They are very interested in the results. They are planning how to use the results, but will not be able to take any further action until our scientific paper is published.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Informing protected area network design in the USA, Colombia and Brazil
Geographic Reach North America 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Description Use in IPCC report
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
Title Wallace Initiative 3 database and website 
Description Database of model results on the impacts of climate change on 125,000 species at temperatures of 1.5 - 6 C and its accompanying website (see below) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Much of the work has been published in peer reviewed journals it has beget two spin-off projects in Australia with our Australian partners including one that is extensively used by Natural Resource Managers in Australia. 
Description Engagement with World Wildlife Fund 
Organisation World Wide Fund for Nature
Country Switzerland 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We held a joint workshop with WWF; we present the research results from the IMPALA project. We also completed a consultancy project for WWF during 2015-2016
Collaborator Contribution They hosted the workshop. They funded the consultancy project.
Impact A publication, Warren R, Price J, VanDerWal J, Cornelius S, Sohl H. (2018). The implications of the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change for globally significant biodiversity areas. Climatic Change.
Start Year 2016