Story at a glance

  • A new study finds 99.8 percent of the 459 U.S. animals listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are sensitive to climate change.
  • ESA planning documents only included climate change as a threat for 64 percent of endangered species.
  • Only 18 percent of endangered species had planned management actions that addressed climate change, according to the research.

Nearly all (99.8 percent) of the 459 U.S. animals listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) are sensitive to climate change, according to new research published Monday in Nature Climate Change

The analysis led by Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit conservation organization, found that the agencies involved in administering the ESA, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, considered climate change to be a threat for a far lower proportion of endangered species — 64 percent. Only 18 percent of endangered species had planned management actions that addressed climate change, researchers found when examining ESA planning documents for species listed as endangered through 2018. 

What’s the tangible impact of not addressing climate change in these planning documents? Lead author on the study and Defenders of Wildlife’s senior policy analyst for climate adaptation Aimee Delach says, “It could certainly increase the likelihood that we will have species go extinct or that we will lose populations because the services are not prepared to address those threats.”

The United Nations released a report in May that warned nature is declining globally at rates “unprecedented in human history” and that species extinctions are “accelerating” around the world. Delach says that the new research on America’s endangered species shows 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.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote to The Hill’s Changing America, “The ESA requires the Service to use the best available science in determining if a species is currently in danger of extinction (endangered), or likely to become so in the foreseeable future (threatened).” The statement continued, “Our process for determining this looks at five factors: threats to a species' habitat, overutilization, disease or predation, existing regulatory mechanisms, and other factors that may affect its continued existence. Through this scientifically rigorous process we examine and account for the effects of climate change.”

Published on Nov 19, 2019