Planet Earth faces a climate emergency

11,258 scientist signatories from 153 countries warn about the risk of inaction on climate change to avoid untold suffering – now that’s a stark warning.

“Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to tell it like it is … [and] we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” was the call to action delivered in the preamble.

The report notes that four decades ago scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979) and agreed that alarming trends for climate change made it urgently necessary to act.

Despite subsequent warnings, progress has been insufficient and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rapidly rising, with increasingly damaging effects on the Earth's climate.

“An immense increase of scale in endeavors to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis,” the report says.

The scientists presented graphical vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years for human activities that can affect GHG emissions and change the climate as well as actual climatic impacts that has been systematically collected for five years, with regular updates and multiple references to the IPCC reports.

The climate crisis is, they say, closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle and the most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.

“Profoundly troubling signs from human activities include… fossil fuel consumption, the number of air passengers carried, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and per capita CO2 emissions since 2000.”

Encouraging signs are listed as institutional fossil fuel divestment of more than US$7 trillion and the proportion of GHG emissions covered by carbon pricing

The group acknowledges that consumption of solar and wind energy has increased 373 per cent per decade, but in 2018, it was still 28 times smaller than fossil fuel consumption (combined gas, coal, oil).

As of 2018, approximately 14.0% of global GHG emissions were covered by carbon pricing, but the global emissions-weighted average price per tonne of carbon dioxide was only around US$15.25. A much higher carbon fee price is needed. Annual fossil fuel subsidies to energy companies have been fluctuating, and because of a recent spike, they were greater than US$400 billion in 2018.

“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address the predicament,” the report says.

“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 scientists declare that especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature's reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic “hothouse Earth,” well beyond the control of humans (Steffen et al. 2018) and potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.

They suggest six critical and interrelated steps to lessen the worst effects of climate change. including energy.

Energy: The world must quickly implement massive energy efficiency and conservation practices and must replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables and other cleaner sources of energy if safe for people and the environment.

We should leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground and should carefully pursue effective negative emissions using technology such as carbon extraction from the source and capture from the air and especially by enhancing natural systems, they state.

Wealthier countries need to support poorer nations in transitioning away from fossil fuels, and we must swiftly eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and use effective and fair policies for steadily escalating carbon prices to restrain their use.

They also recommend action on short-lived pollutants, preservation of nature, plant based foods, economic rationality and population stabilisation.

The mobilisation of actions by groups is welcomed.

“We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities, and businesses are responding.

“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.

“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.”