- Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment
- High Meadows Environmental Institute
Climate change is impacting biodiversity, ecosystem function, and human well-being. Regions with stable climates can act as climate refugia that will be critical to safeguarding climate-sensitive species. However, such refugia may only be “ecologically viable” if they are not heavily degraded by human activities. This talk presents a new model of climate stability based on historical, contemporary, and projected distributions of life zones—distinct biogeographic units characterized by temperature, precipitation and aridity. Comparisons of historical (early 20th century) and contemporary (late 20th century) distributions show that life zone changes have already impacted 27 million km2 globally. Projected life zone changes will impact an additional 62 million km2 by 2070. While approximately 84 million km2 is projected to remain within the same life zone to act as potential climate refugia, intense human pressure worldwide has left only 25.7 million km2 (19% of the global land area) with the potential to act as ecologically viable refugia. These results underscore the need for proactive, climate-smart strategies for biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene and pinpoint regions that will likely be critical to sustain biodiversity and ecosystem function. International and national conservation policies and strategies, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plans, and national strategies for implementing ‘30x30’, should explicitly consider the management and protection of these ecologically viable refugia to ensure that nature and society can adapt to ongoing rapid global change.