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One In Six Species Could Disappear Due To Climate Change, New Study Finds

04/30/2015 05:25 pm ET | Updated Apr 30, 2015
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16 percent. Remember that number.

If climate change continues unabated, 16 percent -- one in six -- plant and animal species will go extinct, according to a new study published in Science.

The report, "Accelerating Extinction Risk From Climate Change," analyzed 131 other studies that diverged widely in their estimates of the rate of extinction that will occur if climate change continues unabated. Some of the underlying studies found that very few, if any, species would disappear, while others placed the number close to 54 percent.

Humans still have time to prevent widespread extinction caused by climate change, but the window of opportunity is closing, said Mark Urban, a professor at the University of Connecticut and the study's lead author.

"We haven't seen many extinctions yet, and I think that's because we're still in the area where climate is [playing] a contributing role, but not the final element," Urban told The Huffington Post. "Extinctions due to climate change will emerge out of the noise of all these other factors."

Urban said the rate of biodiversity loss will accelerate with each degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) the planet warms. Earth's average surface temperature has already increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution, and animals like polar bears have been struggling in our changing world. Species native to South America, Australia and New Zealand are particularly at risk.

"We're going to have to make some decisions here depending how much the Earth warms," Urban said. "We're going to have to decide where to place those resources."

Carbon emissions stabilized in 2014 for the first time in 40 years, thanks in part to the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources. But last year was also the hottest year in 135 years of record-keeping. China is poised to overtake the U.S. as the biggest contributor to modern global warming and most conservative Republicans still don't think climate change is happening.

President Barack Obama has been tackling the issue with renewed vigor as the world readies for the highly anticipated Paris climate summit hosted by the United Nations later this year. The outcome of the Paris meeting could influence the current threats to biodiversity, Urban said. He emphasized that his research is "predictive extinction," not a final death notice.

"Biodiversity is very important," he said. "If we get to this point where we're looking to risk one in six species, there's a good chance that we're going to lose something critical."

16 percent.

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