Kew's work is helping to combat climate change and plants are essential in this effort
As world leaders sit down to discuss the future of our planet in Copenhagen this week, Kew believes that plants have never been more essential in combating climate change. Our Breathing Planet Programme plays a vital role in protecting some of the richest and most naturally diverse places on the planet, helping to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
04 Dec 2009
View of a Madagascar rainforest - Madagascar is home to an estimated 10,000–12,000 plant species, over 90% of which are found nowhere else on earth.
Conserving genetic diversity in botanic gardens and seed banks is a sensible and practical precaution for an uncertain future, says Steve Hopper. With species loss at an unnatural high and with climate change threatening many ecosystems, the need to invest in these facilities has never been greater.Professor Stephen Hopper, Director RBG Kew
Our climate is changing and getting warmer
There is now overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is impacting people and environments all around the world. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities have caused a rise in global average temperatures of 0.74°C in the last 100 years. Importantly, models and projections of the future for the environment suggest that emissions of greenhouse gases will continue to rise, and temperature rises of up to 6˚C could be seen by 2100.
In a recent report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which was the first to look at global emissions since 2000, it was concluded that given current emissions and their growth rates, temperature rises of less than 4˚C are improbable.
Under these conditions, Kew has concerns for the future of the world's plant life. Even a temperature rise of 2-3˚C could put up to half the world’s plant species at risk of extinction. Today, between 60,000 and 100,000 species of plant are faced with the threat of extinction – roughly a quarter of all plant species.
Plants are vital to combat climate change
Plants are the major regulators of the world’s climate and underpin all life on our planet.
By taking energy from the sun and carbon dioxide from the air, plants provide the air we breathe and play a fundamental role in stabilising the Earth’s climate and producing the foods, medicines, materials and oxygen that support our lives. Plants also help to counteract environmental change by absorbing CO2, turning it into plant material.
Plant life must be conserved if climate change is to be moderated and humanity is to survive. Without plants there is no sustainable solution to manage climate change.
Kew's science and conservation work is making a difference
Kew's scientists are extremely concerned about the impacts of climate change on the world's plant life, and the resulting impacts of human wellbeing, and we take our role as an agent for the mitigation of climate change very seriously.
The Breathing Planet Programme is Kew's 10 year vision for the future. It draws on our historic plant reference collections, scientific expertise and international partnerships to increase positive conservation outcomes around the world.
In 2000, Kew joined with other botanical organisations around the world to call for a global integrated plant conservation plan. The call was instrumental in the development of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation in 2002, which formed the first worldwide action plan aiming to halt the loss of plant species.
In 2006, we helped formulate and subsequently signed the Gran Canaria Declaration II which calls for immediate conservation action to protect plant species most at risk from climate change. Kew is now working with partners in over 100 countries to implement these action plans.
Kew's unique strengths
Kew's key strength is the size of its collections and the expertise associated with these. Our Herbarium holds over 7 million preserved plant specimens and data on how plant species are distributed around the world. Kew also uses the study of phenology to investigate the effects of environmental change on plant life cycles.
We also carry out vegetation surveys around the world to understand how the distribution and diversity of plant life is changing. These surveys can help protect plants for the future. Typically they might lead to improvements in land use, for example reforestation, or to the designation of conservation status to rich natural habitats.
For example, Kew’s work with other organisations to map the vegetation of Madagascar is helping to prioritise areas for conservation. Madagascar is one of the world's top ten biodiveristy hotpots. It has an incredible diversity of life, over 90% of which are found nowhere else on earth. Sadly, much of Madagascar's valuable flora is under severe threat from vegetation clearance to make way for agriculture, charcoal production and timber extraction. There is also a threat from the illegal collection of orchids, palms and succulents. Through our global conservation and science work, Kew is helping to protect plant life in Madagascar.
- Discover more about Kew's work in Madagascar
- Find out how Kew's GIS (Global Information Sysytem) team got on during their recent expedition to the island
Get involved – Adopt a Seed, Save a Species
Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership has successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species, and we have set our sights on saving 25% by 2020. For just £1,000 or £2,000 you can help this effort by saving an entire plant species outright. Or you can get involved by adopting a seed for just £25.
Discover more about Kew's work around the world
- Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership banks 10% of the world’s wild plant species
- Kew launches habitat restoration project in Peru
- Kew is helping to shape conservation policy in Mozambique
- Clues on climate change in the USA
- Kew's Breathing Planet Programme
- Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership
Scientific Research & Data
- The Sampled Red List Index for Plants
- CBD Advice to Government
- An introduction to the Convention on Biological Diversity for people working with botanical collections
- Plant Diversity & Climate Change (pdf)
Browse Kew news
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
- around the world
- ground breaking
- the UK
- at risk
- needs help
- english heritage
- Kew overseas
- verge of extinction
- wet tropics
- gifts that help
- hot spot
- South East Asia
- english garden
Get updates from Kew on twitter
Unable to parse the data in the RSS file.