Thousands of Scientists Around the World Have United to Declare Climate Emergency That Will Bring 'Untold Suffering'

More than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries have declared a climate emergency by putting their name to a declaration stating the need for "transformative change" to avoid "untold suffering due to the climate crisis."

Forty years after the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva in 1979, it is still "business as usual," the article, published in the BioScience journal, states. In the meantime, "the climate crisis has arrived," and not only is it more severe than anticipated, it is accelerating faster than expected, the signatories say.

Thomas Newsome at the University of Sydney described a "moral obligation" for scientists to warn the public of any major threats to humanity. "From the data we have, it is clear we are facing a climate emergency," he said in a statement.

demonstrator climate change
More than 11,000 scientists from around the world have signed the declaration, calling it a climate emergency. Demonstrator holds up a sign saying "Yes”—it is a climate crisis"” during "Fire Drill Friday" climate change protest on October 25, 2019 in Washington, DC . John Lamparski/Getty

The signatories highlight some of the positive steps that have been taken since scientists first issued a warning to humanity in 1992. "We have made good progress in stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer. The rapid decline in the emissions of ozone depleting substances shows that we can make advances when we act decisively. We have also made headway in reducing extreme poverty and hunger," William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, told Newsweek.

The article also mentions rapid growth in the renewable energy sector, decreases in global birth rates and declining deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest as examples of positive change.

But this progress, at least in some respects, appears to be stalling. The decline of birth rates has decreased over the 21st century with a further 2 billion people (equivalent to a 35 percent increase) have been added to the global population since 1992, and the election of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has coincided with an uptick in deforestation in the Amazon.

At the same time, demand for fossil fuel has increased, along with demand for livestock produce, and global temperatures, sea levels and ocean acidity have continued to rise. Although consumption of solar and wind energy has increased some 373 percent per decade, it is overshadowed by consumption of fossil fuels, which (as of 2018) was 28 times as high, the scientists said.

trawler in louisiana
A study published earlier this year found oceans are heating up to 40 percent faster than previously thought. Pictured: a fishing trawler moves through the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana on August 24, 2019. Drew Angerer/Getty

"While things are bad, all is not hopeless," said Newsome. "We can take steps to address the climate emergency."

The article's authors highlight six areas of focus that require immediate action. These includes energy, where they advise eliminating fossil fuels and introducing carbon fees, and food, where reductions in food waste and animal products could reduce some of the stress the agricultural industry places on the planet.

There is also a strong emphasis on population, which the article describes as one of the "most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion." According to the article, the global population is currently increasing by 200,000 people a day.

While population control could be controversial, Ripple stresses the need to strengthen human rights while tackling growing population numbers, which are straining resources and contributing to human-driven climate change.

"These policies involve bringing voluntary family planning services to all people," he said. "To be successful, we need to achieve full gender equity and make secondary education as a global norm for girls and young women."

Ripple and the other signatories also highlight decisions that can be taken on a personal level—specifically, choosing to have fewer children or none at all. A 2017 study found that having just one less child is the most effective way a person can reduce their carbon footprint.

oil refinery in scotland
Demand for fossil fuels have increased, despite the growing renewable industry. Pictured: The Ineos oil refinery in Grangemouth Scotland, UK. Ashley Cooper/Construction Photography/Getty

But considering how relatively limited the progress has been since the first warning, how optimistic does Ripple feel about this second warning?

"I am hopeful that we will take the needed action to combat climate change," Ripple told Newsweek. "I think we are entering into a social tipping point in our fight against climate change as the urgency of the conversation seems to be ramping up for governments, businesses, and individuals."

"I am encouraged by a recent global surge of concern. Governmental bodies are declaring a climate emergency. The pope issued an encyclical on climate change. Schoolchildren are striking and grassroots citizen movements are demanding change."