The ecological benefits of protecting and restoring wilderness regions are well known, but a recent study has identified another significant advantage of rewilding.
Rewilding, or the preservation and restoration of wildlife and wilderness areas, could enhance ecosystems’ natural carbon sinks, thereby enhancing carbon sequestration processes and aiding in the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, claims a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
For the study, researchers looked at nine different wildlife species, including American bison, gray wolves, sea otters, musk oxen, African forest elephants, and marine fish.
According to their research, only these nine species’ populations may help ecosystems trap an additional 6.41 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or roughly 95% of the carbon emissions required to achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 C target for global warming.
Oastler Professor of Population and Community Ecology for the School of the Environment at Yale University, Oswald Schmitz, said in a statement that wildlife species, throughout their interactions with the environment, represent the missing connection between biodiversity and climate. Rewilding may be among the best nature-based climate solutions available to humanity given this relationship.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the worldwide animal population dropped by an average of 69% from 1970 to 2018. Ecosystems lost out on the advantages of natural carbon-collecting behaviors and processes as a result of these population losses. The study discovered that species ecosystems can change from collecting carbon to becoming sources of carbon emissions as populations continue to dwindle and as species become extinct.
Recent research has revealed that humanity is on track to exceed this goal, despite promises and plans to keep warming to 1.5 C. A study using artificial intelligence predicted we will pass 1.5 C of warming in just 10 to 15 years, and emissions from global agriculture alone could push the planet past the targets set by the Paris agreement.
Global catastrophes are predicted to result from warming that exceeds 1.5 C, including the occurrence of lethal heatwaves, extremely high temperatures, rising sea levels, flooding, prolonged droughts, greater storms, a reduction in biodiversity, and more.
The latest study, however, demonstrates encouraging outcomes of targeted rewilding initiatives for the nine species examined in the study as well as other species globally. The African buffalo, white rhinos, pumas, dingos, loggerhead turtles, and green turtles are some additional species to take into account for rewilding and enhancing carbon capture.
According to the study’s authors, natural climate solutions are more important for achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and providing additional opportunities to improve biodiversity conservation. The ability to increase the breadth, spatial extent, and variety of ecosystems that can be used to help keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is lost if animals are ignored.