Jim Knight: 'Climate change is real and happening now'

From a speech by the Minister for Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity to a meeting of EU Nature Directors in Aviemore, Scotland

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We have passed the point of debating the existence of climate change. It is real, and is already posing significant problems for wildlife across the globe. Our task as governments is, first and foremost, to limit the extent of climate change by controlling emissions. But we must also acknowledge that, to some extent, climate change is inevitable - and that we are already seeing its effects.

In an increasingly fragmented landscape, changes in climate are more problematic for wildlife - but we cannot view climate change as "just another pressure" to add to those that already threaten our wildlife. With climate change, we are likely to see more invasive and alien species - with effects on our local wildlife.

Most migratory species are drifting towards the poles. This poses particular problems for species that already make their homes in arctic and mountainous areas like the Alps and the Pyrenees. They cannot shift further north, or higher, as their climates become warmer. They have nowhere left to go.

Migratory waders like the red knot may experience large population declines and some, like the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, face extinction. As sea ice melts, polar bears and northern seals are under increasing threat. As the forest habitats of mountain gorillas in Africa disappear, they will too, because there is little scope for them to move or adapt.

For those of us persuaded of the importance of wildlife, we must always think in terms of how we can help people as well as help animals. In the end, we can only persuade people to protect wildlife if it is in their own interests.

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