New research led by Defenders of Wildlife and published today in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change reveals that agencies charged with protecting animals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are not adequately addressing threats from climate change in ESA planning documents. The study evaluated all 459 U.S. animals listed as ‘endangered’ under the ESA, comparing each species’ sensitivity to climate change against agency plans to manage those threats. The study found that although 99.8% of endangered animals are sensitive to climate change threats, agencies only considered climate change a threat to 64% of those species, and planned management actions addressed climate change for 18% of species.
“Our study demonstrates that while climate change is a pressing threat to imperiled species, agencies that manage federally protected species have not given enough attention to this threat,” said Aimee Delach, Senior Policy Analyst for Climate Adaptation and lead author on the study. “Even worse, we found the agencies are moving in the wrong direction, with actions in recovery documents addressing climate change threats declining since 2014. The current administration produced only one species’ document in 2017-18 that included management actions to address climate impacts. These numbers don’t even account for the disastrous new ESA regulations, which will hinder future efforts by agencies to protect species from these effects.”
“This study confirms that the climate crisis could make it even harder for nearly all of our country’s endangered species to avoid extinction,” said Dr. Astrid Caldas, Senior Climate Scientist with Union of Concerned Scientists. “While agencies have increasingly listed climate change as a growing threat to species whose survival is already precarious, many have not translated this concern into tangible actions meaning a significant protection gap still exists. We still have time to safeguard many of the endangered species we treasure, but the window to act is narrowing.”
• The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed with bipartisan support in 1973—and remains extremely popular with the American public today—with the goals of preventing extinction and conserving species. It creates the programs and tools to address threats to imperiled species, like climate change.
• We know unequivocally that the climate is changing and that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are the major cause of this warming. There is also an international scientific consensus that we are in the midst of a global biodiversity extinction crisis, and that climate change is one of the leading threats.
• The Nature Climate Change study included a rapid assessment of the climate change sensitivity of 459 U.S. animal species listed as endangered under the ESA, based on a series of eight criteria related to the potential effect of climate change on each species’ habitat, ecology, physiology, and life cycle.
• The study also reported on whether climate change was considered as a potential threat in each species’ publicly available ESA documents, including listing decisions, recovery plans and outlines, critical habitat designations, and five-year status reviews. Then, for those species for which federal agencies have prepared a management document other than a listing decision, the authors recorded what management actions, if any, were included to address climate change in species recovery.
• The documents assessed in the study predate the Trump administration’s recent move to weaken implementation of the ESA by rewriting regulations in a way that will effectively enable agencies to ignore the threats from climate change in listing species, designating critical habitat, and determining if actions pose a threat to a species. The study’s results indicate that even before promulgating these disastrous new changes, the federal government was not adequately accounting for climate change in endangered species management.
• In light of the growing scientific consensus of a global biodiversity extinction crisis, of which climate change is a major driver, the study’s results are a reminder that we are not yet taking sufficient action to support imperiled wildlife to contend with climate change impacts.
• Defenders of Wildlife has complemented the paper with a free, interactive web application containing data and results from the study, developed and hosted by Defenders’ Center for Conservation Innovation as well as a one page brief on the impacts to the nation's most imperiled species.