Image: Quarrie Photography via Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Scientists warn of a 'clear and unequivocal' climate emergency

More than 11,000 scientists from all over the world have issued a stark message to governments, warning of 'untold suffering' if climate change isn't tackled.

The experts, including six scientists from the Museum, have agreed that the planet is facing a climate emergency. 

In a study published in the journal BioScience, authors tracked Earth's 'vital signs' over the last 40 years. These include rainforest loss, carbon emissions, human energy consumption, ocean acidity and sea level rise, which are all linked to climate change.

Troubling trends include increases in human populations and livestock, more meat production than ever, the destruction of our forests and high fossil fuel consumption.

The researchers say they have a moral obligation to warn the public and governments of the scale of the threat that these activities bring.

Prof Chris Stringer is a world-leading human evolution expert based at the Museum, and one of those who added his name to the list of signatures.

He says, 'As they evolved, humans have had to cope with the natural cycles of climate change, but we are now threatened with changes well beyond anything the human lineage has ever experienced - we have to act now to start turning things around.'

Warming temperatures and biodiversity loss could mean large areas of our planet become uninhabitable, and economies could struggle to cope with the social changes that will inevitably bring.

The group suggest six steps that can be taken to improve the outlook for the future:

  • Stop mining fossil fuels and quickly find other, sustainable alternatives. 
  • Reduce the emissions of air pollutants like methane and soot.
  • Protect our most at-risk ecosystems, such as mangroves, forests, coral reefs, wetlands. 
  • Eat less meat.
  • Shift economic goals away from GDP growth and reduce inequality.
  • Stabilise the world’s population.

The message echoes other recent warnings from scientific groups, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Just last month, the troubled state of Britain's biodiversity was outlined in the State of Nature report.

Prof Andy Purvis, a Research Leader at the Museum, also signed the study. He says, 'As a scientist, my main aim is to try to better understand the natural world. But the evidence of a climate and biodiversity emergency is now so strong that I feel I have to speak out.

We’re trashing the planet for short-term gain - and it’s future generations that will have to pay the full price. We need to leave them a better legacy than this.'

Encouragingly, the data shows that the production of solar and wind energy is increasing, and there has been decelerated forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon.

However, the authors point out that despite decades of conferences and committees, including the 2015 Paris Agreement, not enough action has been taken to halt global carbon emissions, which are still rising.

The study ends, '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 good news is that such transformative change, with social and economic justice for all, promises far greater human well-being than does business as usual.'

Protecting our planet

We're working towards a future where both people and the planet thrive.

Hear from scientists studying human impact and change in the natural world.