Scientists who declared climate emergency two years ago say Earth’s vital signs have worsened

‘It’s surprising that climate change impacts are happening so fast around the world,’ lead scientist tells The Independent

Daisy Dunne
Climate Correspondent
Wednesday 28 July 2021 01:56 BST
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Almost two years ago, 11,000 scientists in 153 countries came together to declare that the world is facing a climate emergency. Now, the research team behind the declaration warn that Earth’s “vital signs” have continued to deteriorate.

In a new assessment, the scientists say that “there has been an unprecedented surge in climate-related disasters since 2019” – including “record-shattering heatwaves and wildfires in Australia and the western US”, “extraordinary hurricanes” and “devastating cyclones” in parts of Asia and Africa.

At the same time, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a new record while the number of livestock on Earth soared past four billion – representing more mass than all humans and wild mammals combined.

Dr William Ripple, lead author of the assessment and distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, described the world’s “lack of progress” since November 2019 as “frustrating and scary”.

“Most of the factors that we track, we call them ‘planetary vital signs’, have gotten worse,” he told The Independent.

“It’s surprising to me that climate change impacts are happening so fast around the world. Just in the last two weeks, every day we’ve seen another climate-related disaster – either with fires or floods or drought or heat.

“I feel frustrated that there has not been more progress, especially with the rich countries and the ones that are doing the most polluting. It’s frustrating and it’s scary at the same time.”

Other vital signs to worsen over the past two years include Amazon deforestation, which reached a 12-year high of 1.11 million hectares destroyed in 2020, the research says.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon at a 12-year high last year (AFP/Getty)

Greenland and Antarctica also saw record low levels of ice mass in the last two years, according to the analysis, which is published in the journal BioScience.

Despite the grim outlook, there are “glimmers of hope”, Dr Ripple said.

The assessment notes that 1,990 jurisdictions in 34 countries have formally declared or recognised a climate emergency in the past two years. In addition, the amount spent on fossil fuel subsidies globally has dropped.

The Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on some indicators, such as air transport – but these effects were “short lived”, the analysis says.

“A major lesson from Covid-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required,” the researchers say.

These changes include the elimination of fossil fuels, a switch to mostly plant-based diets and the restoration and permanent protection of Earth’s natural habitats, the analysis says.

An upcoming global climate summit in Glasgow in November, known as Cop26, will provide a key moment for world leaders to deliver the transformations needed to change Earth’s fortunes, Dr Ripple said.

“I would like to see world leaders and climate negotiators work on a plan for the phase out and banning of fossil fuels and a global price on carbon – as an instrument to reduce fossil fuel use.

“Our third policy suggestion is to establish international ‘climate reserves’ – this is where we’d like to see protections for ecosystems that are especially important for sequestering carbon.”

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