Temperature overshoot pathways entail exceeding a specified global warming level (e.g. 1.5°C or 2°C) followed by a decline in warming, achieved through anthropogenically enhanced CO2 removal from the atmosphere. However, risks to biodiversity from temperature overshoot pathways are poorly described. Here, we explore biodiversity risks from overshoot by synthesizing existing knowledge and quantifying the dynamics of exposure and de-exposure to potentially dangerous temperatures for more than 30 000 species for a 2°C overshoot scenario. Our results suggest that climate risk to biodiversity from temperature overshoot pathways will arrive suddenly, but decrease only gradually. Peak exposure for biodiversity occurs around the same time as peak global warming, but the rate of de-exposure lags behind the temperature decline. While the global overshoot period lasts around 60 years, the duration of elevated exposure of marine and terrestrial biodiversity is substantially longer (around 100 and 130 years, respectively), with some ecological communities never returning to pre-overshoot exposure levels. Key biodiversity impacts may be irreversible and reliance on widespread CO2 removal to reduce warming poses additional risks to biodiversity through altered land use. Avoiding any temperature overshoot must be a priority for reducing biodiversity risks from climate change, followed by limiting the magnitude and duration of any overshoot. More integrated models that include direct and indirect impacts from overshoot are needed to inform policy.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Ecological complexity and the biosphere: the next 30 years’.