Researchers Propose Six Steps to Tackle Climate Emergency

An international group of researchers, which also included Dr Thomas Newsome at the University of Sydney and global collaborators, has warned that without deep and permanent shifts in human activities, “untold human suffering” cannot be avoided.

Dr Thomas Newsome inspecting field samples. Image credit: Stefanie Zingsheim/University of Sydney

This is because such human activities contribute to various other factors associated with climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions.

This latest announcement is based on a scientific investigation of over four decades of publicly available data that covers a wide variety of measures, such as population growth, surface temperature, energy use, fertility rates, polar ice mass, deforestation, land clearing, carbon emissions, and gross domestic product.

Scientists have a moral obligation to warn humanity of any great threat. From the data we have, it is clear we are facing a climate emergency.

Dr Thomas Newsome, School of Life and Environment Sciences, The University of Sydney

In an article published recently in BioScience, the authors from the Oregon State University, The University of Sydney, Tufts University, and the University of Cape Town, together with over 11,000 scientist signatories from 153 nations, announced a climate emergency.

This current data revealed trends as benchmarks against which progress had to be measured and six areas of action had to be outlined to reduce the worst impacts of climate change caused by humans.

Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have generally conducted business as usual and are essentially failing to address this crisis,” stated Professor William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the Oregon State University College of Forestry and the study’s co-lead author. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

According to Dr Newsome, the measurement of surface temperatures in the world will continue to remain significant. But he also stated that a “broader set of indicators should be monitored, including human population growth, meat consumption, tree-cover loss, energy consumption, fossil-fuel subsidies and annual economic losses to extreme weather events.”

The indicators are meant to be useful for the business community, policymakers, and the public to monitor the development over time, he added.

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

Dr Thomas Newsome, School of Life and Environment Sciences, The University of Sydney

Six Steps for the Planet

The researchers proposed six areas where humanity must take instant steps to mitigate the impacts of a warming planet: These areas include:

  1. Energy—Large conservation practices should be implemented; fossil fuels with clean renewables should be substituted; remaining stocks of fossil fuels should be left in the ground; subsidies to fossil fuel companies should be eliminated; and carbon fees that are sufficiently high to limit the use of fossil fuels should be imposed.
  2. Short-lived pollutants—Emissions of soot, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, and other short-lived climate pollutants should be rapidly eliminated. This can possibly decrease the short-term warming trend by over 50% over the next few years.
  3. Nature—Large land clearing should be limited. Ecosystems like forests, grasslands, and mangroves should be restored and protected as these would significantly play a role in the sequestration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; carbon dioxide is known to be a major greenhouse gas.
  4. Food—Mostly plants but only fewer animal products should be consumed. This dietary change can considerably cut down emissions of greenhouse gases, including methane, and thus free up agricultural lands for growing human food instead of livestock feed. It is also important to reduce food waste—according to researchers, a minimum of one-third of all food produced reaches the garbage.
  5. Economy—The economy’s dependence on carbon fuels should be changed to deal with human reliance on the biosphere. Goals should be shifted away from the pursuit of affluence and the growth of the gross domestic product.
  6. The extraction of materials and exploitation of ecosystems should be curtailed to maintain the long-term sustainability of the biosphere.
  7. Population—Global population is increasing by over 200,000 people per day. Hence, this should be stabilized using methods that guarantee economic and social justice.

According to the paper, “Mitigating and adapting to climate change means transforming the ways we govern, manage, eat, and fulfil material and energy requirements.”

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 graphs demonstrate how factors and indicators of climate change have changed over the last four decades, because researchers from 50 countries had met in Geneva at the First World Climate Conference held in 1979.

In the subsequent years, numerous other global assemblies have accepted that immediate action is required; however, greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing quickly. Human activities are pointing to other warning signs, like the number of airline passengers, the global loss of tree cover, and the sustained increases in per-capita production of meat.

Nevertheless, there are also a few promising signs such as the decelerated forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, the reductions in global birth rates, and the rise in solar and wind power. Yet, even these signs are marked with trepidation. For instance, the decline in birth rates has reduced in the past two decades, and the speed of the loss of the Amazon forest may be beginning to increase again.

Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and its costs, sea level, ocean acidity and land area are all rising. 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.

William Ripple, Distinguished Professor of Ecology, College of Forestry, Oregon State University

Dr Newsome and Professor Ripple were joined by co-lead author Dr Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral scholar in the Oregon State University College of Forestry; Dr Phoebe Barnard of the Biological Conservation Institute and the University of Cape Town; and Emeritus Professor William Moomaw of Tufts University.

World scientists declare climate emergency

Video credit: University of Sydney


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