More than 11,000 scientists from more than 150 countries have signed a joint declaration of a climate change emergency, citing 40 years of research showing the world is heading towards “untold human suffering” unless action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is taken.
In a declaration, and an accompanying research paper published in the journal BioScience, the scientists outlined the observed impacts of climate change over the last 40 years, and said the scientific evidence justified the declaration of a major global crisis.
“Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any great existential 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,” the statement said.
“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have generally conducted business as usual and are essentially failing to address this crisis,” report author professor William Ripple of the Oregon State University added.
“Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”
In an accompanying scientific paper, authored by scientists from University of Sydney, Oregon State University, University of Cape Town and Tufts University, the scientists presented a series of data observations that highlighted the observed effects of climate change, saying the data and evidence showing the impacts of global warming were becoming increasingly clear.
“Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity and land area are all rising,” professor Ripple 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.”
Australian researchers said that the observations were significant and that the pace of change across so many factors should be cause for concern. The charts show how key climate and sustainability indicators have changed since 1979, when scientists met for the First World Climate Conference held in Geneva.
“This article adds to the roar from all fields of science that climate action needs to be taken now,” University of Melbourne lecturer Dr Linden Ashcroft said.
“The succinct summary shows clearly how much has changed in our environment, population, and energy sectors in the last 40 years. While there are some good signs, the majority of the graphs in this article are going up, when they need to be going down.”
“The impressive signatory list contains at least 350 Australian scientists, with more ecologists and medical researchers than climate researchers. This suggests to me these experts are reacting to the devastating impacts they see in their everyday work.”
The authors of the paper have listed six priority areas for action, including: decarbonisation of the energy system, reducing short-lived greenhouse gases like methane, reducing land clearing, shifting to diets with a lower carbon footprint, restructuring economies away from a reliance on growth driven by resource extraction and taking measures to stablise the global population.
“Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honouring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” the paper says.
“We are encouraged by a recent global surge of concern – governments adopting new policies; schoolchildren striking; lawsuits proceeding; and grassroots citizen movements demanding change.”
“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 formal declaration of a climate change emergency has emerged, particularly for governments, as a way to acknowledge the seriousness and severity of the threat that climate change poses.
More than 60 local councils in Australia have passed declarations of a climate emergency, along with the parliaments of South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, joining more than 1,000 jurisdictions around the world that have made the same formal declarations.
In the Australian federal parliament, both Labor and the Greens have sought to move declarations in the Federal Parliament, but were blocked by the Morrison government.
A formal e-petition to the Australian parliament, calling for the declaration of a climate change emergency received more than 400,000 signatures, smashing the record.
The Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales and Portugal have all endorsed some form of climate emergency declaration.
However, progress has not been forthcoming elsewhere, with US President Donald Trump instigating the formal process for withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate change agreement this week.