In 2019, a landmark UN report revealed that nearly 1 million species face extinction due to human activities and climate change.  A groundbreaking new study offers a solution to save more than half of these doomed species, while slowing climate breakdown: Conserve just 30 percent of tropical lands.

Conservation News spoke with the study’s lead author and senior climate change scientist at Conservation International, Lee Hannah, about the political and economic implications of this research — and what it could mean for the future of the planet’s wild animals.

Kiley Price: Why is climate change making species disappear? 

Lee Hannah: Every species has its own unique climatic tolerances and environments — which is why we can’t grow palm trees in New York City, for example. These tolerances were formed over hundreds of thousands or millions of years, so it is unlikely that they are going to change overnight. Therefore, when human activities accelerate climate change, species are going to try to follow those climates that are suitable for them rather than adapting to new ones. For many species, this requires moving upslope — but at a certain point, there will be nowhere left to go, which is what we call the “escalator to extinction.”

Price: Where does your new research fit in?

Hannah: In this new study, we were looking to understand how species movements in response to climate change might affect our ability to conserve them. To do this, we modeled the potential movements of hundreds of thousands of species under different climate scenarios. Then, we combined those models with the known locations of several hundreds of thousands more species. This combination allowed us to determine the best regions to protect species both where they are now and where they might be in the future.

Our results showed us that if we limit temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius while conserving just 30 percent of tropical land area, then we can cut species extinction risk in half.

Read the full article about protecting the tropics by Kiley Price at GreenBiz.