Earth Day message: ‘Window of opportunity to curb climate change is closing fast’

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Leading scientists have fired off an urgent message to world leaders on this Earth Day 2015, pleading with them to fight climate change or risk a holocaust of natural disasters.

The plea is part of an “Earth Statement” written by 17 top scientists trying to wake up those in power. Its Number 1 directive: Limit climate warming to below 2 degrees Celsius by transitioning to a zero-carbon society by mid-century.

Or risk calamity.

“The window of opportunity is closing fast. We are on a trajectory that will leave our world irrevocably changed, far exceeding the 2° Celsius mark. This gamble risks disaster for humanity with unmanageable sea-level rise, heat waves, droughts and floods. We would never consider this level of risk in any other walk of life, yet we seem prepared to take this risk with our planet,” said one of the 17 scientists, Johan Rockström, Chair of the Earth League, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and board member of the Global Challenges Foundation.

“Conversely, the scientific evidence shows that we can create a positive future but only with bold action now,” Rockström said.

Policy-makers must put us on a sustainable future, he explained, before the planet crosses tipping points that cannot be reversed, such as letting Antarctica’s ice melt continue.

This year’s world climate talks in Paris, known as COP21, this coming December may well be the last chance leaders have to cutback carbon emissions sufficiently, said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and another author of the Earth Statement.

“The key to success is deep decarbonization by mid-century. Our studies show that this can be accomplished, at modest cost, and with a significant improvement in the quality of life. Success will require a shared global vision, strong national commitments, and global cooperation on technology pathways,” Sachs said.

The Earth Statement’s 8 essential steps to avert disastrous climate change:

1. Governments must put into practice their commitment to limit global warming to below 2° Celsius in order to limit unprecedented climate impact risks.

2. The agreement must be based on the remaining global carbon budget – the limit of what we can still emit in the future – which must be well below 1000 Gt (gigatons) CO2, to have a reasonable chance to hold the 2° Celsius line. (Translations: Scientists have calculated the burden the earth can take, and are asking leaders to not tap all the fossil fuels available.)

3. In the agreement, countries must commit to deep decarbonization, starting immediately and leading to a zero-carbon society by 2050 or shortly thereafter. This will require a fundamental transformation of the economy.

4. Equity is critical. Every country must formulate an emissions pathway consistent with deep decarbonization. For the sake of fairness, rich countries and progressive industries can and should take the lead and decarbonize well before mid-century.

5. Targeted research, development, demonstration and diffusion (RDD&D) of low-carbon energy systems and sustainable land use are prerequisites to unleash a wave of climate innovation.

6. The (COP21)agreement should provide the starting point for a global strategy to reduce vulnerability, build resilience and deal with loss and damage of communities from climate impacts, including collective action and scaled-up support.

7. Countries must agree to safeguard carbon sinks and vital ecosystems, such as forests, which is as important for climate protection as the reduction of emissions. (Translation: Slowing down deforestation is critical.)

8. Governments must urgently realize new scales and sources of climate finance for developing countries to enable our rapid transition to zero-carbon, climate-resilient societies. (Translation: Wealthy countries must assist developing nations, otherwise they’ll lag behind, sell off forests that need preserving and continue to pollute the atmosphere.)

Rockström and John Schellnhuber, a fellow Earth League member and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, will present the Earth Statement to the  4th Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability in Hong Kong on Thursday, 23 April, 2015.

The leaders plan to continue to reach out to thought leaders and decision-makers with the full Earth Statement.

The authors of the Earth Statement are:

Earth League Members: Chair: Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Center, Sweden; Guy P. Brasseur, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Germany; Ottmar Edenhofer, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Germany; Sir Brian Hoskins, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, UK; Pavel Kabat, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria; Mario J. Molina, Centro Mario Molina, Mexico; Jennifer Morgan, World Resources Institute, USA; Nebojsa Nakicenovic, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and Vienna University of Technology, Austria; Carlos Nobre, National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil; Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego (UC), USA; Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany; Peter Schlosser, Earth Institute, Columbia University, USA; Youba Sokona, The South Center, Switzerland; Leena Srivastava, TERI University, India; Lord Nicholas Stern, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK; Guanhua Xu, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China; Additional author (not EL member): Jeffrey Sachs, The Earth Institute, Columbia University.

The Earth League is an international alliance of prominent scientists from world-class research institutions, who work together to find solutions to the urgent issues faced by humankind, such as climate change, depletion of natural resources and water scarcity.

The work of the Earth Statement also was supported by the Global Challenges Foundation, which works to raise awareness about threats facing humanity and how these are linked to poverty and global population. It was founded in 2011 by investor László Szombatfalvy.

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