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11,000 international scientists call for urgent and immediate action to tackle 'climate crisis'

Mon 25 November 2019 | Back to news list

An international grouping of 11,000 scientists has warned that humanity faces "untold suffering due to the climate crisis" unless urgent and effective action is taken. Meanwhile, the WMO has reported that greenhouse gas emissions hit record levels in 2018, in the latest figures just released.

A study, published in the journal Bioscience, based on 40 years of data on a range of measures, says governments are failing to address the crisis and must enforce deep and lasting changes in the way societies act.

The indicators included in the study include the growth of human and animal populations, per capita meat production, global tree cover loss, as well as fossil fuel consumption.

Taken together, the researchers say most of the vital indicators are going in the wrong direction and add up to a climate emergency.

Lead author of the report Dr Thomas Newsome, from the University of Sydney (reported by the BBC) said: "An emergency means that if we do not act or respond to the impacts of climate change by reducing our carbon emissions, reducing our livestock production, reducing our land clearing and fossil fuel consumption, the impacts will likely be more severe than we've experienced to date." 

He said: "That could mean there are areas on Earth that are not inhabitable by people."

"As scientists, we urge widespread use of the vital signs and hope the graphical indicators will better allow policymakers and the public to understand the magnitude of the crisis, realign priorities and track progress."

The report makes recommendations in several areas. It says: 

  • On energy, politicians should impose carbon fees high enough to discourage the use of fossil fuels,ending subsidies to fossil fuel companies and implement massive conservation practices while also replacing oil and gas with renewables.
  • On short-lived pollutants: These include methane, hydrofluorocarbons and soot - the researchers say that limiting these has the potential to cut the short-term warming trend by 50% over the next few decades.
  • On nature,it says: Stop land clearing, restore forests, grasslands and mangroves which would all help to sequester CO2. It says that tree loss needs to stop
  • On food it suggests that a big dietary shift is needed so that people eat mostly plants and consumer fewer animal products. Reducing food waste is also seen as critical.
  • On the economy it advisesConvert the economy's reliance on carbon fuels - and change away from growing the world's gross domestic product and pursuing affluence.
  • On human population: The world needs to stabilise the global population which is growing by around 200,000 a day. The researchers acknowledge that the idea of trying to influence human population growth is highly controversial and has been deemed too hot to handle by UN negotiators. They say, however, that looking the other way is no longer an option.

The report summary published on the Bioscience website says: "As the Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision-makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future. We urge widespread use of vital signs, which will better allow policymakers, the private sector, and the public to understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities for alleviating climate change.

"The good news is that such transformative change, with social and economic justice for all, promises far greater human well-being than does business as usual. We believe that the prospects will be greatest if decision-makers and all of humanity promptly respond to this warning and declaration of a climate emergency and act to sustain life on planet Earth, our only home.

"Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency."

Meanwhile, a report from the World Meteorological Organization says that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere has hit a record high.

The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin showed that globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017.

The increase from 2017 to 2018 was very close to that observed from 2016 to 2017 and just above the average over the last decade. Global levels of CO2 crossed the symbolic and significant 400 parts per million benchmark in 2015.

CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the oceans for even longer.

The WMO report says that concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide also surged by higher amounts than during the past decade, according to observations from the Global Atmosphere Watch network which includes stations in the remote Arctic, mountain areas and tropical islands.

Since 1990, there has been a 43% increase in total radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate - by long-lived greenhouse gases. CO2 accounts for about 80% of this.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said: “There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change,»  said.

“We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of the mankind.” 


Related news: The International Energy Agency has added its weight to the debate saying that the world's existing climate policies will not be enough to end the upward march of record energy emissions rising beyond 2040 without a "grand coalition" of governments and investors.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its World Energy Outlook that carbon emissions from the global energy industry reached a new record in 2018 despite progress in renewable energy in recent years.

Whilt the IEA expects the growth of renewables to accelerate over the coming decades, it warned that this would not be enough to reduce the energy sector’s emissions before 2040.

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said there was a “deep disparity” between the aim to tackle the climate crisis by curbing carbon emissions and the existing policies which had allowed a “relentless upward march” for emissions.

"This rate would be two-thirds slower than the emissions hikes recorded in previous decades but would fall very far short of what is needed to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.

“We will need to see great political will around the world. This is why I believe that the world needs to build a grand coalition encompassing governments, investors, companies and everyone else who is genuinely committed to tackling climate change.

“We think that governments’ current plans could bring us to catastrophic implications for the climate of this planet. In order to be in line with the Paris targets there is a need for huge efforts in pushing energy efficiency, renewable energy and all other clean energy technologies.” 

The IEA’s latest figures estimate that carbon emissions are on track to keep rising by 100m tonnes a year for at least another 20 years under existing policy plans.

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