A new report has warned that 20 of 35 planetary vital signs are at “record extremes” – and life on Earth is imperilled.
The team of 12 global scientist identified key policies that should be address to fix the “ecological overshoot”. While The Fifth Estate thinks this report is a very important read, here are some curated recommendations from the report:
“Economic growth, as it is conventionally pursued, is unlikely to allow us to achieve our social, climate, and biodiversity goals. The fundamental challenge lies in the difficulty of decoupling economic growth from harmful environmental impacts.”
“Although technological advancements and efficiency improvements can contribute to some degree of decoupling, they often fall short in mitigating the overall ecological footprint of economic activities.
“The impacts vary greatly by wealth; in 2019, the top 10 per cent of emitters were responsible for 48 per cent of global emissions, whereas the bottom 50 per cent were responsible for just 12 per cent.
“We therefore need to change our economy to a system that supports meeting basic needs for all people instead of excessive consumption by the wealthy.”
“The elevated rates of climate disasters and other impacts that we are presently seeing are largely a consequence of historical and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.
To mitigate these past emissions and stop global warming, efforts must be directed toward eliminating emissions from fossil fuels and land-use change and increasing carbon sequestration with nature-based climate solutions.
However, it is crucial to explore other possible strategies to efficiently remove additional carbon dioxide, which can contribute to long-term planetary cooling. Negative emissions technologies are in an early stage of development, posing uncertainties regarding their effectiveness, scalability, and environmental and societal impacts. As such, we should not rely on unproven carbon removal techniques.
Although research efforts should be accelerated, depending heavily on future large-scale carbon removal strategies at this juncture may create a deceptive perception of security and postpone the imperative mitigation actions that are essential to tackle climate change now.
Stopping coal consumption
In addition to its destructive effects on ecosystems and global health, coal accounts for more than 80 per cent of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere since 1870 and roughly 40 per cent of current carbon dioxide emissions.
As of 2022, global coal consumption is near record levels. In 2021, coal-related carbon dioxide emissions were greatest in China 53.1 per cent, followed by India (12.0 per cent), and the United States 6.7 per cent. Coal usage in China has accelerated rapidly in the past decades, and the country now still produces nearly a third of all fossil fuel carbon dioxide and methane emissions.
In response to this situation, we support the Powering Past Coal Alliance and recommend the adoption of the international Coal Elimination Treaty to phase out coal and, more broadly, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
These treaties could provide support for less wealthy countries in transitioning away from coal and other fossil fuels, including funding to build out renewable energy capacity and retrain and transition workers from the fossil fuel industry.
Climate feedback loops directly affect the relationship between emissions and warming. For example, warming causes permafrost soils to thaw, emitting methane and carbon dioxide that result in further warming.
As such, reinforcing feedback loops amplify the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, leading to additional warming. Therefore, understanding feedback loops and their interactions can inform climate mitigation and adaptation strategies.
Despite their importance, the combination of multiple amplifying feedback loops are not well understood, and the potential strengths of some dangerous feedback loops are still highly uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, we call for an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report that focuses on the perilous climate feedback loops, tipping points, and—just as a precaution—the possible but less likely scenario of runaway or apocalyptic climate change.
Food security and undernourishment
After declining for many years, the prevalence of undernourishment is now on the rise. In 2022, an estimated 735 million people faced chronic hunger—an increase of roughly 122 million since 2019. This rise, which has pushed humanity far off track from achieving zero hunger by 2030, is due to multiple factors, including climate extremes, economic downturns, and armed conflict.
Climate change has reduced the extent of global agricultural productivity growth, so there is danger that hunger will escalate in the absence of immediate climate action. In particular, there may be serious and underestimated future risks of synchronized harvest failures caused by increased waviness of the jet stream.
Because of the growing risks of concurrent major crop losses in multiple regions of the world, adaptation-focused efforts are needed to improve crop resilience and resistance to heat, drought, and other climate stressors. A shift toward plant-based diets, particularly in wealthy countries, could improve global food security and help mitigate climate change.
The impacts of climate change are already catastrophic for many. However, these impacts are not unfolding uniformly across the entire globe. Instead, they disproportionately affect the world’s most impoverished individuals, who, ironically, have had the least role in causing this issue. To achieve socioeconomic justice and universal human well-being, it is crucial to strive for a convergence in per capita resource and energy consumption worldwide. This entails working toward balanced and equitable levels of energy and resource consumption for both the global north and south.
Conclusions of the report states:
The effects of global warming are progressively more severe, and possibilities such as a worldwide societal breakdown are feasible and dangerously underexplored. By the end of this century, an estimated 3 to 6 billion individuals—approximately one-third to one-half of the global population—might find themselves confined beyond the livable region, encountering severe heat, limited food availability, and elevated mortality rates because of the effects of climate change. Big problems need big solutions.
Therefore, we must shift our perspective on the climate emergency from being just an isolated environmental issue to a systemic, existential threat. Although global heating is devastating, it represents only one aspect of the escalating and interconnected environmental crisis that we are facing (e.g., biodiversity loss, freshwater scarcity, pandemics).
We need policies that target the underlying issues of ecological overshoot where the human demand on Earth’s resources results in overexploitation of our planet and biodiversity decline. As long as humanity continues to exert extreme pressure on the Earth, any attempted climate-only solutions will only redistribute this pressure.
To address the overexploitation of our planet, we challenge the prevailing notion of endless growth and overconsumption by rich countries and individuals as unsustainable and unjust. Instead, we advocate for reducing resource overconsumption; reducing, reusing, and recycling waste in a more circular economy; and prioritizing human flourishing and sustainability. We emphasize climate justice and fair distribution of the costs and benefits of climate action, particularly for vulnerable communities.
We call for a transformation of the global economy to prioritize human well-being and to provide for a more equitable distribution of resources. We also call to stabilize and gradually decrease the human population with gender justice through voluntary family planning and by supporting women’s and girls’ education and rights, which reduces fertility rates and raises the standard of living.
These environmentally conscious and socially equitable strategies necessitate far-reaching and holistic transformations in the long run that could be achieved through gradual but significant steps in the short term.
As scientists, we are increasingly being asked to tell the public the truth about the crises we face in simple and direct terms. The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023. We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered.
Conditions are going to get very distressing and potentially unmanageable for large regions of the world, with the 2.6°C warming expected over the course of the century, even if the self-proposed national emissions reduction commitments of the Paris Agreement are met.
Additionally, key data found by the scientist include:
- fossil fuel subsidies globally have doubled between 2021 and 2022, from $US531 billion to over $US1 trillion
- Canadian wildfires pumped more than 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere this year
- there have already been 38 days with a global average temperature of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels
- in July, the highest average Earth surface temperature ever was recorded – the highest in the last 100,000 years
Read the full report here.