Figure 1: “The 2023 state of the climate report: Entering uncharted territory.”

World - ‘We Are Afraid’: Scientists Issue New Warning As World Enters ‘Uncharted Climate Territory’

A distinguished international team of scientists on Tuesday issued the starkest warning yet that human activity is pushing Earth into a climate crisis that could threaten the lives of up to 6 billion people this century, stating candidly: “We are afraid of the uncharted territory that we have now entered.”

Writing in the journal Biosciences, the coalition of 12 researchers, spanning North America, Europe and Asia, state in unusually stark language: “As scientists, we are increasingly being asked to tell the public the truth about the crises we face in simple and direct terms. The truth is that we are shocked by the ferocity of the extreme weather events in 2023.”

Record climate anomalies seen around the world in 2023 have astonished the scientific community, raising concerns that further extreme weather, as well as climate tipping points, could arrive sooner than expected. The authors say that the temperature records, which smashed all previous observations, along with record low levels of sea ice, are signs that human activity is “pushing our planetary systems into dangerous instability.”

Such instability, they warn, means that in this century as many as 6 billion of the Earth’s almost 8 billion people could find themselves in regions that are no longer habitable due to climate impacts such as extreme heat and dwindling food supplies.

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The report is a major update to a 2019 bulletin, since co-signed by more than 15,000 scientists from 163 countries, that called on governments to make serious and rapid changes to current, high-emitting economic systems or face “untold suffering” worldwide.

Drawing on the cumulative body of Earth systems research, from disciplines spanning atmospheric physics, oceanography, biology, paleoclimatology and human geography, Tuesday’s Biosciences report shows that the world is now undergoing changes at a speed never before seen in human existence. Juxtaposed against the “minimal progress” among governments to slow climate change, the authors write, “It is the moral duty of us scientists and our institutions to clearly alert humanity of any potential existential threat and to show leadership in taking action.”

The full report, “The 2023 state of the climate report: Entering uncharted territory,” can be viewed here.

“Life on our planet is clearly under siege,” William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University and a lead author of the report, told media. “The statistical trends show deeply alarming patterns of climate-related variables and disasters. We also found little progress to report as far as humanity combating climate change.”

Co-lead author Christopher Wolf, a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State University, added: “Without actions that address the root problem of humanity taking more from the Earth than it can safely give, we’re on our way to the potential collapse of natural and socioeconomic systems and a world with unbearable heat and shortages of food and freshwater.”

This latest warning follows hot on the heels of a report released Monday that indicated melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would continue to accelerate this century regardless of how much fossil fuel use is reduced. The British Antarctic Survey, which authored the report, warned that its findings suggest previous forecasts have seriously underestimated the potential rate and extent of sea level rise, with the West Antarctic Ice Sheet containing enough ice to raise global sea levels “by up to five metres,” or more than 16 feet.

FIGURE 1 (above): Unusual climate anomalies in 2023 (the red line, which appears bold in print). Sea ice extent (a, b), temperatures (c–e), and area burned in Canada (f) are presently far outside their historical ranges. These anomalies may be due to both climate change and other factors. Sources and additional details about each variable are provided in supplemental file S1. Each line corresponds to a different year, with darker gray representing later years.

As well as still-rising fossil fuel emissions, the authors of the Biosciences report discuss other mechanisms that could have contributed to the year’s truly astounding climate anomalies, including rising rainfall and dust from North Africa, additional water vapor caused by an underwater volcano eruption and regulatory changes that have led to lower sulfate aerosols from ocean shipping—aerosols that are thought to have helped scatter sunlight and created more reflective clouds, thereby partly cooling the planet.

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