Climate change

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You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Climate change

News and views from the RSPB on climate change and what you can do about it.
  • Don’t threaten protected areas in the rush to frack

    Later today, a committee of MPs will discuss amendments to the Infrastructure Bill. We believe some of the most important surround assurance that our protected sites remain protected.

    We believe in the rush to develop Britain's fracking potential, we have a duty to ensure that our natural environment is not spoilt in the process.

    There are many environmental concerns, including: the over abstraction of water; the disturbance of sensitive wildlife, such as pink-footed geese; the fragmentation of habitat; and water pollution. Because of these concerns, we believe it's essential that sensitive wildlife sites should be avoided, alongside valued landscapes, as these fragile locations could be disproportionately affected.

    Properly amending the Infrastructure Bill to include a presumption against the development of fracking in our most treasured sites would help address one of the most urgent threats to nature.

    Many partner organisations share our concerns, including: the National Trust; the Angling Trust; the Salmon and Trout Association, the Wildlife Trusts, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

  • On the effects of climate change in Southern Ocean seabirds

    Guest blog from Deborah Pardo, Richard Phillips and Phil Trathan, British Antarctic Survey

    In Polar Regions, where species are already at the limit of their ranges, climate change is suspected to have particularly strong effects (Barbraud et al. 2012). Researchers at the British Antarctic Survey have been monitoring several key seabird colonies for a number of decades, as well as using animal-borne devices to better understand the links between population demography, and at-sea behaviour and distribution. Analyses of some of these monitoring data in relation to oceanographic and climatic variables provide a fantastic opportunity to understand the effects of climate change on Southern Ocean seabirds. 

    Three of the 14 Overseas Territories (OTs) of the United-Kingdom are in the South Atlantic. These islands include the breeding sites of an array of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic species including albatrosses, penguins, petrels and skuas. Many of those species are currently listed as threatened by IUCN, and some of the populations in the UK OTs are at risk of extinction.

    Recently, links have been made between changes in wind regimes in the Indian Ocean, and body size, breeding success and even survival probabilities of wandering albatrosses in the Indian Ocean (Weimerskirch et al. 2012). Stronger, more southerly winds appear to increase the ability of adults to move and access unpredictable resources. A shift in distribution might also reduce overlap with certain fisheries, reducing the risk of incidental mortality on longlines set for tuna and other billfishes.

    A black browed albatross, one of the numerous species threatened with climate change in Southern Atlantic Ocean UK Overseas Territories

    The effect of global warming is clearly evident at the Antarctic Peninsula where there are igher sea surface temperatures and reductions in seasonal sea ice extent. These physical changes may have profound effects on a range of trophic levels, in particular on the production of krill, which is at the base of trophic chains that sustain many marine bird and mammal populations in the Southern Ocean (Atkinson et al. 2004, Forcada et al. 2008-2009-2014, Reid and Croxall 2001). These changes may lead to range contractions, food-web perturbation and a poleward shift in distribution, as well as more variable breeding success and reduced population size. However the effect of such changes depends on the species, reflecting their specific life-histories and ecology. The case of penguins is particularly interesting; generalist gentoo penguins are seen as climate change ‘winners’, whereas Adélie and chinstrap penguins have become climate change ‘losers’ (Croxall et al. 2002, Boersma 2008, Trathan et al. 2014). Phenological changes have also been demonstrated, in particular in East Antarctica where 9 species of seabirds are breeding later, probably because changes in sea ice extent and duration have limited the quantity and availability of food prior to the breeding season (Barbraud & Weimerskirch 2006).

    Given the complexity of processes underlying responses of seabirds to climate change, and the interaction with other environmental and anthropogenic drivers, a lot of unanswered questions still remain. Long-term monitoring of populations, the development of analytical tools and devices, and a strong collaboration between researchers to synthesize intra- and inter-specific responses in different regions will be keys to a better understanding of the effects of climate on Southern Ocean seabirds and our ability to predict their future.

  • European climate deal does just enough to keep hope alive

    The growing gap between the level of ambition recommended by climate scientists and what politicians are able to deliver in terms of commitments to cut emissions is cause for serious concern. From a nature conservation perspective, there’s a high risk of climate change taking place so rapidly that many species will be lost. Just last month, for example, our partner organisation in the US, the Audubon Society, published the results of pioneering new research that found half of all bird species in the US were imperilled by  climate change.

    In this light, it would be easy to condemn the deal struck by Cameron and other European leaders last night as woefully inadequate. The new EU climate target to 2030 is just 40% emission reductions by 2030, when it should be at least 55%, and targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency are equally inadequate and aren’t even binding on national governments.

    Yet, until today Europe had no concrete plans to cut emissions beyond 2020. The renewable energy industries, which have been innovating and growing in recent years because of EU 2020 targets had no assurance of continued support, whilst energy conservation continued to be ignored. The latter has been particularly galling, given that reducing energy use saves consumers money and reduces the amount of large energy infrastructure needed, making it the most nature-friendly way of cutting our emissions!

    Today’s deal should have done just enough to alleviate the worst of this uncertainty. What’s more, the greenhouse gas emission target includes a flexibility clause that will mean it can be increased as part of the UN negotiations over a global climate deal next year.

    This is an important achievement then, particularly given the other pressures on EU leaders and the continued antagonism towards climate action from some countries, political parties and parts of the media. 

    Now we must focus on building on this agreement by investing in diplomacy to achieve a strong global climate deal, continuing to push for greater ambition in Europe, and focusing on delivering the emission cuts here in the UK. I hope to see all of the political parties, for example, putting forward detailed and ambitious plans over the coming months that would deliver emission reductions through reducing energy use, supporting energy efficiency and supporting sustainable, low ecological impact renewable energy. Unless this happens, and is followed by swift action by the new Government next year, we will see the UK falling from a position of a global leader on climate action to being a laggard.