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11,000 scientists declare 'climate emergency'

  • Published at 01:34 am November 7th, 2019
Firefighters work to control flames from a backfire during the Maria fire in Santa Paula, California on November 1, 2019 AFP

'The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected'

Eleven thousand scientists in 153 countries have declared a climate emergency and warned the world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, in a report published on Tuesday in the journal Bioscience. 

The declaration is based on analysis of more than 40 years of publicly available data covering a range of measures from energy use to deforestation and carbon emissions.

The study, called the “World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency,” was led by ecologists Bill Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University, and climate scientist William Moomaw of Tufts University, along with scientists from universities in South Africa and Australia. The signatories to the report represent several fields of study and come from 153 countries.

“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”

There is no time to lose, the scientists say, “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”

The statement is published in the journal on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction and slashing meat eating.

Scientists say they have a moral obligation to “clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat” and “tell it like it is.”

 A crowd of thousands march in a climate strike featuring climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on October 25, 2019 /Reuters

Although there are some positive indicators – such as declining birth rates and a rise in renewable energy use – most indicators suggest humans are rapidly heading in the wrong direction, they say.

Backward steps include rising meat consumption, more air travel, chopping down forests faster than ever and increase in global carbon dioxide emissions. Scientists say they want the public to “understand the magnitude of this crisis, track progress, and realign priorities for alleviating climate change.”

To do so will require major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems, they say.

The letter focuses on six key objectives - replacing fossil fuels, cutting pollutants like methane and soot, restoring and protecting ecosystems, eating less meat, converting the economy to one that is carbon-free and stabilizing population growth.

 “Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity and land area are all rising,” William Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University said.

“Ice is rapidly disappearing as shown by declining trends in minimum summer Arctic sea ice, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, and glacier thickness. All of these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action.”

Lead author, Dr Thomas Newsome from the University of Sydney, said measuring global surface temperatures remained important but that a broader set of indicators should be monitored. 

This includes “human population growth, meat consumption, tree-cover loss, energy consumption, fossil-fuel subsidies and annual economic losses to extreme weather events,” he said. 

“While things are bad, all is not hopeless. We can take steps to address the climate emergency,” he said. 

The authors say despite the gloomy outlook there is room for optimism.