Science & Tech

Scientists warn climate change could cause a extinction pandemic in less than 50 years

Scientists warn climate change could cause a extinction pandemic in less than 50 years
Italian climate activists glue their hands to a Botticelli painting

We've all heard about the dire consequence of climate change but now experts have said more research is needed into the "dangerously underexplored" area of "climate endgame."

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say in their paper that the "plausible worst cases" need to be explored as there are "ample reasons to suspect that climate change could result in a global catastrophe."

It was argued that further analysis is needed into this matter in order to "help galvanise action, improve resilience, and inform policy, including emergency responses."

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As a result, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been urged by researchers to dedicate a future report to catastrophic climate change.

The team have proposed the research areas to investigate aptly called "the four horsemen" of climate endgame: famine and malnutrition, extreme weather, conflict, and vector-borne diseases.

Lead author Dr Luke Kemp, from Cambridge's Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, said: "There are plenty of reasons to believe climate change could become catastrophic, even at modest levels of warming.

"Climate change has played a role in every mass extinction event. It has helped fell empires and shaped history. Even the modern world seems adapted to a particular climate niche.

"Paths to disaster are not limited to the direct impacts of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events.

"Knock-on effects such as financial crises, conflict, and new disease outbreaks could trigger other calamities, and impede recovery from potential disasters such as nuclear war," he added.

For the study, the team used a model that estimated the consequences of 3C warming and beyond.

This modelling showed areas of extreme heat (average temperature of over 29C) which could affect two billion people by 2070, the researchers noted that not only are the affected areas densely populated but some are also politically fragile.

“Average annual temperatures of 29 degrees currently affect around 30 million people in the Sahara and Gulf Coast,” said co-author Chi Xu of Nanjing University.

“By 2070, these temperatures and the social and political consequences will directly affect two nuclear powers, and seven maximum containment laboratories housing the most dangerous pathogens. There is serious potential for disastrous knock-on effects,” he said.

"Facing a future of accelerating climate change while remaining blind to worst-case scenarios is naive risk-management at best and fatally foolish at worst," said co-author Prof Kristie Ebi from the University of Washington.

While another co-author Prof Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: "The more we learn about how our planet functions, the greater the reason for concern.

"We increasingly understand that our planet is a more sophisticated and fragile organism. We must do the math of disaster in order to avoid it."

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