A new study has indicated that global warming is going to affect the world's protected areas so severely, that in some cases, the resulting environments will be virtually new to the planet.
Presented at the UN climate change talks in Bali, Indonesia, the study says that more than half the world's protected territory is vulnerable to impacts of climate change, with some regions facing the disappearance of current climatic conditions by 2100 or a transition to conditions not found on Earth in the previous century.
"We previously assumed that if the land is protected, then the plants and animals living there will persist," said Sandy Andelman, lead author of the study and CI's (Conservation International) vice president who heads the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) network. "But, that may be wishful thinking," she added.
According to the study, countries where 90 percent or more of the total protected territory has climate conditions that will disappear globally or be transformed to novel climates are Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Niger, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda and Venezuela.
With millions of people living in these countries, maintaining the health of protected areas and the biological diversity they contain is crucial to the availability of fresh water, food, medicines and other life-sustaining benefits of nature.
Another startling finding of the study is that climate change will cause increased extinctions of species unable to adapt to altered climatic conditions, and substantial changes to the natural ecosystems.
The study also identified "refuge" countries where protected areas face minimal risk from climate change, including Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone and Somalia.
Ensuring the adequate protection of nature reserves in these countries will provide baseline information to help understand the dynamics of biological diversity relatively unaffected by climate change.
"We urgently need to better understand how climate change will affect life on Earth so we can develop solutions, and to do that we need consistent data about long-term trends at a very large scale," said Andelman.