Global Warming Effects Around the World

Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

Top Impact

Ecosystems (Land)

Other Impacts

Temperature (Air)

People (Costs)

Man floats on river raft through Salonga National Park

Climate change is one of multiple stressors that threaten the rich, biologically diverse land ecosystem of the Congo Basin. The Congo River winds through Salonga National Park, recognized by the United Nations for providing the world's only habitat for many endangered species.1

Key Facts

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's remote Salonga National Park—accessible only by water—is Africa's largest tropical rainforest reserve.2 Global warming is adding to pressures such as war, deforestation, and poaching, with potentially devastating consequences for the country and its stunning biodiversity.5,4,3

  • Salonga provides the sole habitat for many endangered species, including the dwarf chimpanzee (bonobo), the Congo peacock, the forest elephant, and the African slender-snouted or "false" crocodile.2
  • The warming trend in Africa has accelerated since the 1960s.6 The Congo Basin became warmer and drier in the latter part of the twentieth century.7
  • If we do nothing to reduce our heat-trapping emissions,9 Salonga faces a net loss of around seven species of mammals by 2050, and 19 species by 2080.10

Details

Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is Africa's largest tropical rainforest reserve, accessible only by water.2 This United Nations World Heritage Site is located in the basin of the Congo River2—the second-longest river in Africa.3

Rainforest covers nearly half of the DRC.3 Thanks to this rich ecosystem, the country is home to more than 11,000 species of plants, 450 mammals, 1,150 birds, 300 reptiles, and 200 amphibians.3 Salonga provides the sole habitat for many endangered species, including the dwarf chimpanzee (bonobo), the Congo peacock, the forest elephant, and the African slender-snouted or "false" crocodile.2

Forests of the Congo Basin make up the world's second-largest dense tropical rainforest, after the Amazon Basin.3 Industrial logging has expanded significantly in the past few years, and deforestation threatens the Congo Basin ecosystem.3 The DRC lost nearly 4 million acres (16 thousand square kilometers) of forest from 2000 to 2005—the fifth-highest total in Africa.3,4

The people, wildlife, and environment of the DRC are also endangered by war. Four million people—nearly half of them children under age five—have died as a result of armed conflict during the dozen years before 2009.5

Additional pressures on rich ecosystems include poaching, agricultural production, population growth and migration, and road building.3 Given these multiple stressors, climate change could have particularly devastating consequences for the DRC. The global trend of rising surface temperatures is affecting every continent, including Africa,3 and the warming trend in Africa has accelerated since the 1960s.6

The Congo Basin warmed by an average of 0.4-0.5° F (0.2-0.3° C) per decade in the last quarter of the twentieth century.7 Meanwhile average annual precipitation in the basin declined 8-12 percent from 1960 to 1998.6,7

What the Future Holds

In the DRC and other African countries, global warming is expected to worsen challenges such as high poverty rates and limited resources available for adaptation and mitigation.6 Climate change is one of several stresses putting biodiversity in Africa at risk.8

According to a recent study, if our heat-trapping emissions continue to rise at current rates,9 and wildlife are confined within game reserves, about 15 percent of mammalian species in Africa are likely to be critically endangered or extinct by mid-century, and roughly 40 percent by late this century.10 If the animals are free to migrate, the projections drop to around 20 percent of mammalian species critically endangered or extinct by late in the century.10

Scientists expect a major shift of mammalian species in the Congo Basin, if animals are able to move toward cooler and moister areas.10 Still, if we do nothing to reduce our heat-trapping emissions,9 Salonga faces a net loss of around seven species of mammals by 2050, and 19 species by 2080.10

Unless we reduce heat-trapping emissions significantly, climate change could cause a substantial and relatively rapid reshuffling of mammalian species in Salonga and other African national parks. These new and unpredictable relationships and communities could put today's biodiversity in jeopardy.10

Credits

Endnotes

  1. Photograph used by permission. Kim Gjerstad. Accessed 11 May 2010 at http://whc.unesco.org/ include/ tool_image.cfm?src=/ uploads/ sites/ gallery/ full/ site_0280_0004.jpg.
  2. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). World Heritage Sites: Salonga National Park. Online at http://whc.unesco.org/ en/ list/ 280/. Accessed May 11, 2010.
  3. United Nations Environment Programme. 2008. Africa: Atlas of our changing environment. Nairobi, Kenya: Division of Early Warning and Assessment. Online at http://www.unep.org/ dewa/ africa/ africaAtlas/ PDF/ en/ Africa_Atlas_Full_en.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  4. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. 2005. Global forest resources assessment 2005. Rome, Italy: Forestry Division. Online at http://www.fao.org/ forestry/ site/ fra2005/ en/. Accessed May 11, 2010.
  5. New York Times. 2009. Congo, the Democratic Republic of. Online at http://topics.nytimes.com/ top/ news/ international/ countriesandterritories/ congothedemocraticrepublicof/ index.html. Accessed May 11, 2010.
  6. Boko, M., I. Niang, A. Nyong, C. Vogel, A. Githeko, M. Medany, B. Osman-Elasha, R. Tabo, and P. Yanda. 2007. Africa. In: Climate change 2007: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson. Cambridge University Press, pp. 433-467.
  7. Malhi, Y., and J.Wright. 2004. Spatial patterns and recent trends in the climate of tropical rainforest regions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 359:311-329.
  8. Desanker, P.V. 2002. Impact of climate change on life in Africa. Washington, DC: World Wildlife Fund. Online at http://www.worldwildlife.org/ climate/ Publications/ WWFBinaryitem4926.pdf. Accessed May 10, 2010.
  9. The emissions scenario referred to here is the high-emissions path known as A2 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  10. Thuiller W., O., Broennimann, G. Hughes, J.R.M. Alkemade, G.F. Midgley, and F. Corsi. 2006. Vulnerability of African mammals to anthropogenic climate change under conservative land transformation assumptions. Global Change Biology 12:424-440.
Climate Hot Spots
 
Africa
 
Asia
 
Australia & New Zealand
 
Europe
 
Latin America
 
North America
 
Polar Regions
 
Small Islands
 
Key to top impacts color code