By Sharon Atieno

More than 11,000 scientist signatories from 153 countries have declared that the planet is facing a climate emergency.

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said Prof. William J. Ripple, Oregon State University College of Forestry and a global coalition of scientists’ leader. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

Flooding in Mozambique
Photo credits: MSF

In a paper published in BioScience, the scientists note that most discussions on climate change are based on global surface temperature only, which is not enough to measure the extent of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming climate.

They present a suite of graphical vital signs of climate change over the last 40 years for human activities that can affect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and change the climate, as well as actual climatic impacts.

The scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate steps to slow down the effects of a warming planet: energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy and population.

In the energy sector, they call for implementation of massive conservation practices, replacement of fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables, leaving remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel companies and imposing carbon fees that are high enough to restrain the use of fossil fuels.

They further note the need to quickly cut emissions of short-lived pollutants such as methane, soot and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) among others as it has the potential of decreasing by more than 50% the short-term warming trend over the next few decades.

The scientists also call for protection and restoration of the earth’s ecosystems such as forests, marine and terrestrial plants, animals and microorganisms which play a vital role in sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.

In the food sector, they advocate for reduction in the amount of food wasted globally and a dietary shift from eating animal products to mostly plant-based foods as it will significantly lower GHG emissions.

Moreover, the scientists recommend the conversion of the economy to a carbon free one that addresses human dependence on the biosphere and shifts goals away from the growth of gross domestic product and the pursuit of affluence. This also includes curtailing excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere.

With regards to population, the scientists note the need to stabilize a global human population that is increasing by more than 200,000 people a day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.

“Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” the paper states.

“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 an Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future.”