State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

A Climate Battle Cry for Earth Day

Amazon River Delta Courtesy NASA, Johnson Space Center
Photo: NASA

A group of 17 renowned scientists from around the world are appealing for dramatic action to forestall the worst effects of climate change, issuing an “Earth Statement” that calls for a world powered with zero carbon emissions by mid-century.

The appeal spells out eight “essential elements” of action that need to be taken by world governments gathering to negotiate a climate agreement in Paris this December.

“The window of opportunity is closing fast,” said Johan Rockstrom, chair of the Earth League, the organization behind the statement. Nations must act now to avoid going past a 2° C rise in average temperature, which many fear would risk disruption of communities and economies from rising sea levels, heat waves, droughts and floods.

The Paris meeting “is the moment of truth: the last chance to stay within the 2° Celsius upper limit,” said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and an 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.”

Peter Schlosser, the deputy director of the Earth Institute, is also one of the statement’s co-authors.

If we follow our current path of energy use, the statement notes, average temperatures could rise 4° C by 2100 – and there is a one-in-10 chance that is would rise by 6°, with devastating impact.

The “eight essentials” are:

  • The 2° C limit: Countries need to stick to their commitments to keep global warming to below a 2° C rise.
  • A 1 trillion tonne carbon budget: The world needs to limit carbon use and leave at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • Zero carbon emissions: The world economy should phase out fossil fuels entirely by mid-century.
  • 193 countries: Everyone should stick to their decarbonization plans, with rich nations taking the lead.
  • Clean energy: The world needs a new wave of innovation in technology to address the climate problem, and to make those innovations available to everyone.
  • Support for the losses: Helping vulnerable nations and communities, and building resilience to climate change.
  • Protecting ecosystems: Safeguarding vital ecosystems and the oceans and forests that help take up carbon.
  • $100+ billion of financing: Governments and the private sector need to step up and help pay for the transition.

“The science, the economics and the moral imperative to protect our planet all demand this action. We are calling on policy-makers to show real leadership and commit the planet to a sustainable future,” Rockström said.

The Earth Statement is to be formally presented at the 4th Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability, held at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center April 22-25. (You can catch the webcast here.)

For a complete text of the statement, to sign on in support and find details on the Earth League, visit their website.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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