A global coalition of scientists led by William J. Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University (United States) warns that “unrevealed human suffering” will be inevitable without profound and lasting changes in human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other climate change-related factors.
Despite 40 years of important global negotiations, we have continued to do business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said Ripple, a professor of ecology at the School of Forestry. Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.
In an article they publish in the journal ‘BioScience’, the authors, along with more than 11,000 scientific signatories from 153 countries, declare a climate emergency, present graphs showing trends as vital signs for measuring progress and provide a set of effective mitigation actions.
The scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate action to halt the effects of a warming planet.
They place energy first, where they consider it essential to implement massive conservation practices; replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energies; leave the remaining reserves of fossil fuels in the soil; eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and impose carbon tariffs that are high enough to restrict the use of fossil fuels.
Instead, they address short-term pollutants, where they call for a rapid reduction in emissions of methane, soot, hydrofluorocarbons and other short-term climate pollutants; doing so has the potential to reduce the warming trend in the short term by more than 50% in the coming decades.
Nature comes third. To this end, they recommend restoring and protecting ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, peatlands, wetlands and mangroves, and allowing more of these ecosystems to reach their ecological potential to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.
Fourth, they place food on which they see the need to eat more vegetables and consume fewer animal products to significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural land for growing human food instead of food for livestock.
The reduction of food waste is also considered fundamental because they remember that at least a third of all food produced ends up as garbage.
The fifth area is the economy, on which they recommend reconverting into a carbon economy to address human dependence on the biosphere and move away from the goals of gross domestic product growth and the pursuit of wealth. Thus, it advises to stop the exploitation of ecosystems to maintain the sustainability of the biosphere in the long term is another recommendation.
And finally they address population, where they see it key to stabilize a global human population that increases by more than 200,000 people per day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.
“Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of human beings involves major transformations in the ways in which our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” the document says.
“We are encouraged by a recent increase in concern. Government agencies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are on strike. Ecocide lawsuits are taking place 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 are ready to help decision-makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future,” they say.
The document’s vital signs graphs illustrate several indicators and key factors of climate change over the past 40 years, since scientists from 50 nations met at the First World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979.
In recent decades, many other global assemblies have agreed that urgent action is essential, but greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise rapidly.
Other ominous signs of human activities include sustained increases in per capita meat production, global loss of tree cover and number of airline passengers.
They also point to some encouraging signs, such as declining global birth rates and slowing forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, and increased wind and solar energy, but even those measures are tinged with concern.
The decline in birth rates has slowed over the past 20 years, for example, and the rate of loss in the Amazon rainforest seems to be beginning to increase again.
Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme climate and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity, and area burned in the United States are all on the rise,” Ripple recalls. Globally, ice is disappearing rapidly as evidenced by decreases in the minimum Arctic sea ice in summer, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, and the thickness of glaciers. All these rapid changes highlight the urgent need for action.