UNCHECKED carbon emissions could cause the local extinction of up to 50 per cent of the plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas by the turn of the century, according to a major new study.

The report by environment group WWF, the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Australia’s James Cook University said that even if the Paris Climate Agreement target of 2C was met, areas such as the Amazon and the Galapagos could lose a quarter of their species.

Researchers examined the impact of climate change on nearly 80,000 plans and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and wildlife-rich areas – each chosen for its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.

They used models of different climate change futures – from a no-emissions-cuts case, in which global temperatures rise by 4.5C, to an increase of 2C, the upper limit in the Paris Agreement.

Their report – published today in the journal of Climatic Change and ahead of WWF’s Earth Hour – found that Southern Africa’s Miombo Woodlands, which is home to wild dogs; south-west Australia; and the Amazon Guianas are projected to be among the most affected areas.

A 4.5C global mean temperature rise could leave the climates in these areas unsuitable for many of the plants and animals currently living there. In such a scenario, up to 90 per cent of amphibians, 86 per cent of birds and 80 per cent of mammals could potentially become locally extinct in the Miombo Woodlands.

The Amazon could lose 69 per cent of its plant species; in south-west Australia 89 per cent of amphibians could become locally extinct; and 60 per cent of all species are at risk in Madagascar.

The Fynbos in the Western Cape region of South Africa, which is experiencing a drought that has led to water shortages in Cape Town, could face localised extinctions of a third of its species, many of which are unique to the area.

Increased average temperatures and more erratic rainfall could become be the “new normal”, said the report, with significantly less rainfall in the Mediterranean, Madagascar and the Cerrado- Pantanal in Argentina.

Forecast potential effects in this area include: pressure on water supplies for African elephants, who need to drink 150-300 litres a day; 96 per cent of the breeding grounds of Sundarbans’ tigers could become submerged by a rise in sea level; and comparatively fewer male marine turtles due to temperature-induced sex assignment of eggs. If species can move freely to new locations, the risk of local extinction decreases from around 25 per cent to a fifth with a 2C mean temperature rise. If they cannot, they may not be able to survive.

Lead researcher Professor Rachel Warren, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: “We studied 80,000 species of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians and found that 50 per cent of species could be lost from these areas without climate policy.

However, if global warming is limited to 2C above pre-industrial levels, this could be reduced to 25 per cent.

“Limiting warming to within 1.5C was not explored but would be expected to protect even more wildlife.”

Overall, the research shows the best way to protect against species loss is to keep the global temperature rise as low as possible. The cause will be highlighted on March 24, when millions of people will come together at 8.30pm for Earth Hour.

Dr Sam Gardner, acting director of WWF Scotland said: “Scotland has an important role to play in helping to restore our fragile environment and wildlife. That’s why we’re calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that the forthcoming Climate Change Bill ends our contribution to climate change in a generation.

“This commitment will match that of other nations in the vanguard of climate leadership and help to build the momentum we need if we are to prevent the worst impact of climate change on our most precious species.”