Climate change could lead to collapse of human civilization in next 30 years: Researchers issue stark warning
A doomsday future may not be inevitable, but climate change now represents a "near-to-mid-term existential threat to human civilization" and could lead to a total collapse by 2050, necessitating immediate and drastic action, says a new policy paper. The analysis, published by an independent Australian thinktank, Breakthrough — National Centre for Climate Restoration, outlines a 2050 scenario and warns that the consequences are so severe, it could spell the end of human civilization "as we know it", with a "high likelihood" of the civilization coming to an end by 2025.
The researchers, David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, say avoiding a "hothouse Earth" scenario would require building a zero-emissions industrial system and setting in motion the restoration of a safe climate. This would require a massive global mobilization of resources on an emergency basis, "akin in scale to the World War 2 emergency mobilization", they recommend.
The policy paper, which has been endorsed by a former chief of the Australian Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, says that a lot of scientific knowledge produced for climate policy-making is "conservative and reticent", and a new approach to climate-related security risk-management is the need of the hour. They recommend "giving particular attention to the high-end and difficult-to-quantify fat-tail possibilities", which may have catastrophic consequences that are damaging beyond quantification, and threaten the survival of human civilization.
According to one of the 2050 scenarios described in the paper, "policy-makers fail to act on evidence that the current Paris Agreement path — in which global human-caused greenhouse emissions do not peak until 2030 — will lock in at least 3°C of warming. The case for a global, climate-emergency mobilization of labor and resources to build a zero-emission economy and carbon drawdown to have a realistic chance of keeping warming well below 2°C is politely ignored."
The researchers outline a scenario in which emissions peak in 2030, and start to fall consistent with an 80% reduction in fossil-fuel energy intensity by 2100 compared to 2010 energy intensity. "This leads to a warming of 2.4°C by 2050. However, another 0.6°C of warming occurs — taking the total to 3°C by 2050 — due to the activation of many carbon-cycle feedbacks and higher levels of ice albedo and cloud feedbacks than current models assume," says the paper. The authors say that even for 2°C of warming, over a billion people may need to be relocated. "In high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end," according to the analysis.
The paper warns that if we continue on a path of unchecked emissions, by 2050, 35% of the global land area, and 55% of the global population, will be subject to over 20 days a year of "lethal heat conditions", which will be beyond the threshold of human survivability.
The analysis further cautions that if immediate measures are not taken, several ecosystems will collapse by 2050, including coral reef systems, the Amazon rainforest and the Arctic. "Some poorer nations and regions, which lack the capacity to provide artificially-cooled environments for their populations, become unviable. Deadly heat conditions persist for more than 100 days per year in West Africa, tropical South America, the Middle East, and South-East Asia, contributing to more than a billion people being displaced from the tropical zone. Water availability decreases sharply in the most affected regions at lower latitudes, affecting about two billion people worldwide. Most regions in the world see a significant drop in food production and increasing numbers of extreme weather events, including heat waves, floods, and storms," the researchers state while sketching a dire 2050 scenario.
The researchers suggest recognizing the limitations of policy-relevant climate change research, which may exhibit scientific reticence. They say understanding and foreseeing unprecedented events "depends crucially on an appreciation of the real strengths and limitations of climate-science projections, and the application of risk-management frameworks", which differ from conventional practice. "Adopt a scenario approach giving specific attention to high-end warming possibilities in understanding medium-range (mid-century) climate and security risks, particularly because of the existential implications," they recommend.
The paper says that existential risk management mandates a policy which is integrated across national and global boundaries and recognizes that issues such as climate, energy, ecological crisis, and resource overuse, are inextricably linked and cannot be treated in "separate silos" as is done currently.