Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity loss


Climate change is expected to have significant influences on terrestrial biodiversity at all system levels, including species-level reductions in range size and abundance, especially amongst endemic species1,2,3,4,5,6. However, little is known about how mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions could reduce biodiversity impacts, particularly amongst common and widespread species. Our global analysis of future climatic range change of common and widespread species shows that without mitigation, 57±6% of plants and 34±7% of animals are likely to lose ≥50% of their present climatic range by the 2080s. With mitigation, however, losses are reduced by 60% if emissions peak in 2016 or 40% if emissions peak in 2030. Thus, our analyses indicate that without mitigation, large range contractions can be expected even amongst common and widespread species, amounting to a substantial global reduction in biodiversity and ecosystem services by the end of this century. Prompt and stringent mitigation, on the other hand, could substantially reduce range losses and buy up to four decades for climate change adaptation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Global greenhouse gas emissions and temperature rise in the AVOID scenarios.
Figure 2: Proportion of species losing ≥50% of their range by the 2080s under various dispersal and mitigation scenarios.
Figure 3: Species richness in the 2080s.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Thomas, C. D. et al. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427, 145–148 (2004).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Malcolm, J. R., Liu, C., Neilson, R. P., Hansen, L. & Hannah, L. E. E. Global warming and extinctions of endemic species from biodiversity hotspots. Conserv. Biol. 20, 538–548 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Fischlin, A. et al. in IPCC Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (eds Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden, P. J. & Hanson, C. E.) 211–272 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Jetz, W., Wilcove, D. S. & Dobson, A. P. Projected impacts of climate and land-use change on the global diversity of birds. PLoS Biol. 5, 1211–1219 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Sekercioglu, C. H., Schneider, S. H., Fay, J. P. & Loarie, S. R. Climate change, elevational range shifts, and bird extinctions. Conserv. Biol. 22, 140–150 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Thuiller, W. et al. Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe. Nature 470, 531–534 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Gaston, K. J. & Fuller, R. A. Commonness, population depletion and conservation biology. TREE 23, 14–19 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Elith, J. et al. A statistical explanation of MaxEnt for ecologists. Div. Distrib. 17, 43–57 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Brown, J. H. On the relationship between abundance and distribution of species. Am. Nature 124, 255–279 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Warren, R., Price, J., Fischlin, A., de la Nava Santos, S & Midgley, G. Increasing impacts of climate change on ecosystems with increasing global mean temperature rise. Climatic Change 106, 141–177 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Fee, E. et al. Scientific Perspectives After Copenhagen (European Union, 2010).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Den Elzen, M. G. J., van Vuuren, D. P. & van Vliet, J. Postponing emission reductions from 2020 to 2030 increases climate risks and long-term costs. Climatic Change 99, 313–320 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Lawler, J. J. et al. Projected climate-induced faunal change in the Western Hemisphere. Ecology 90, 588–597 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Report of The Second ad hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity And Climate Change (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2009).

  15. Visconti, P. et al. Future hotspots of terrestrial mammal loss. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 366, 2693–2702 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Building A Low-carbon Economy: The UK’s Contribution to Tackling Climate Change (Climate Change Committee, 2008).

  17. Dormann, C. F. Promising the future? Global change projections of species distributions. Basic Appl. Ecol. 8, 387–397 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Early, R. & Sax, D. F. Analysis of climate paths reveals potential limitations on species range shifts. Ecol. Lett. 14, 1125–1133 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Peters, G. P. et al. Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008–2009 global financial crisis. Nature Clim. Change 2, 2–4 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Nakicenovic N. et al. (eds) IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

  21. Gohar, L. K. & Lowe, J. A. Summary of the emissions mitigation scenarios: Part 1 (Met Office Hadley Centre, 2009); available at

  22. Wigley, T. M. L. & Raper, S. C. B. Interpretation of high projections for global-mean warming. Science 293, 451–454 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Lowe, J. A. et al. How difficult is it to recover from dangerous levels of global warming? Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 014012 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Osborn, T. J. A user guide for ClimGen: A flexible tool for generating monthly climate data sets and scenarios. 19 (Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, 2009).

  25. Warren, R. et al. Development and illustrative outputs of the Community Integrated Assessment System (CIAS), a multi-institutional modular integrated assessment approach for modelling climate change. Environ. Modelling Softw. 23, 592–610 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Meehl, G. A. et al. The WCRP CMIP3 multi-model dataset: A new era in climate change research. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 88, 1383–1394 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Phillips, S. J., Anderson, R. P. & Schapire, R. E. Maximum entropy modelling of species geographic distributions. Ecol. Model. 190, 231–259 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Ramirez-Villegas, J. & Bueno-Cabrera, A. Working with climate data and niche modelling I. Creation of bioclimatic variables (International Center for Tropical Agriculture, 2009).


  30. Phillips, S. J. & Dudik, M. Modelling of species distributions with MaxEnt: New extensions and a comprehensive evaluation. Ecography 31, 161–175 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Olson, D. M. et al. Terrestrial ecoregions of the worlds: A new map of life on Earth. Bioscience 51, 933–938 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank the Met Office Hadley Centre and the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change for use of the emission scenarios produced for the AVOID project. We also thank the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), in particular T. Robertson, for the support provided during the completion of the analyses presented here. A portion of the funding for the Wallace Initiative came from a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to World Wildlife Fund, US. We wish to acknowledge S. Raper’s contribution to the production of the probabilistic climate model. We thank M. Brown at James Cook University for technical assistance. J.A.W. was financially supported, in part, by ARC Discovery Grant DP110104186. J.R-V. and A.J. were partly financially supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



J.P. assembled the team, coordinated and advised. R.W. generated and provided the climate projections in collaboration with T.J.O. and J.L. J.R-V. cleaned and processed the GBIF data. R.W., J.V., J.P., L.P.S., A.J. and S.E.W. designed the model experiments. J.V. performed the model experiments and analysis. R.W., J.V., J.A.W., J.R-V. and J.P. wrote the paper. I.A. facilitated and advised on computational issues surrounding modelling and data storage.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Warren.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Warren, R., VanDerWal, J., Price, J. et al. Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity loss. Nature Clim Change 3, 678–682 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing