The first "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" was written in 19...
William J. Ripple is a professor of ecology at Oregon State Univers...
The full list is obviously very long...It can be found here: https:...
In 1979 at the First World Climate Conference, governments were cal...
"The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global resp...
8 BioScience January 2020 / Vol. 70 No. 1
World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency
cientists have a moral obligation
to clearly warn humanity of any
catastrophic threat and to “tell it like
it is.” On the basis of this obligation
and the graphical indicators presented
below, we declare, with more than
11,000 scientist signatories from
around the world, clearly and unequiv-
ocally that planet Earth is facing a
climate emergency.
Exactly 40 years ago, scientists from
50 nations met at the First World
Climate Conference (in Geneva 1979)
and agreed that alarming trends for
climate change made it urgently neces-
sary to act. Since then, similar alarms
have been made through the 1992 Rio
Summit, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and
the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as
scores of other global assemblies and
scientists’ explicit warnings of insuf-
ficient progress (Ripple et al. 2017). Yet
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are
still rapidly rising, with increasingly
damaging effects on the Earths cli-
mate. An immense increase of scale in
endeavors to conserve our biosphere is
needed to avoid untold suffering due
to the climate crisis (IPCC 2018).
Most public discussions on climate
change are based on global surface
temperature only, an inadequate mea-
sure to capture the breadth of human
activities and the real dangers stem-
ming from a warming planet (Briggs
et al. 2015). Policymakers and the
public now urgently need access to a
set of indicators that convey the effects
of human activities on GHG emis-
sions and the consequent impacts on
climate, our environment, and society.
Building on prior work (see supple-
mental file S2), we present a suite of
graphical vital signs of climate change
over the last 40 years for human activi-
ties that can affect GHG emissions and
change the climate (figure 1), as well
as actual climatic impacts (figure 2).
We use only relevant data sets that are
clear, understandable, systematically
collected for at least the last 5 years,
and updated at least annually.
The climate crisis is closely linked to
excessive consumption of the wealthy
lifestyle. The most affluent countries
are mainly responsible for the his-
torical GHG emissions and generally
have the greatest per capita emissions
(table S1). In the present article, we
show general patterns, mostly at the
global scale, because there are many
climate efforts that involve individ-
ual regions and countries. Our vital
signs are designed to be useful to
the public, policymakers, the busi-
ness community, and those working
to implement the Paris climate agree-
ment, the United Nations’ Sustainable
Development Goals, and the Aichi
Biodiversity Targets.
Profoundly troubling signs from
human activities include sustained
increases in both human and rumi-
nant livestock populations, per capita
meat production, world gross domes-
tic product, global tree cover loss,
fossil fuel consumption, the number
of air passengers carried, carbon diox-
ide (CO
) emissions, and per capita
emissions since 2000 (figure 1,
supplemental file S2). Encouraging
signs include decreases in global fer-
tility (birth) rates (figure 1b), decel-
erated forest loss in the Brazilian
Amazon (figure 1g), increases in the
consumption of solar and wind power
(figure 1h), institutional fossil fuel
divestment of more than US$7 tril-
lion (figure 1j), and the proportion
of GHG emissions covered by car-
bon pricing (figure 1m). However, the
decline in human fertility rates has
substantially slowed during the last
20 years (figure 1b), and the pace of
forest loss in Brazil’s Amazon has now
started to increase again (figure 1g).
Consumption of solar and wind energy
has increased 373% per decade, but
in 2018, it was still 28 times smaller
than fossil fuel consumption (com-
bined gas, coal, oil; figure 1h). As
of 2018, approximately 14.0% of
global GHG emissions were covered
by carbon pricing (figure 1m), but
the global emissions-weighted aver-
age price per tonne of carbon dioxide
was only around US$15.25 (figure 1n).
A much higher carbon fee price is
needed (IPCC 2018, section
Annual fossil fuel subsidies to energy
companies have been fluctuating, and
because of a recent spike, they were
greater than US$400 billion in 2018
(figure 1o).
Especially disturbing are concur-
rent trends in the vital signs of cli-
matic impacts (figure 2, supplemental
file S2). Three abundant atmospheric
, methane, and nitrous
oxide) continue to increase (see
figure S1 for ominous 2019 spike in
), as does global surface tempera-
ture (figure 2a–2d). Globally, ice has
been rapidly disappearing, evidenced
by declining trends in minimum sum-
mer Arctic sea ice, Greenland and
Antarctic ice sheets, and glacier thick-
ness worldwide (figure 2e–2h). Ocean
heat content, ocean acidity, sea level,
area burned in the United States,
and extreme weather and associated
damage costs have all been trending
upward (figure 2i–2n). Climate change
is predicted to greatly affect marine,
freshwater, and terrestrial life, from
plankton and corals to fishes and for-
ests (IPCC 2018, 2019). These issues
highlight the urgent need for action.
Despite 40 years of global climate
negotiations, with few exceptions, we
have generally conducted business
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Viewpoint January 2020 / Vol. 70 No. 1 BioScience 9
as usual and have largely failed to
address this predicament (figure 1).
The climate crisis has arrived and is
accelerating faster than most scientists
expected (figure 2, IPCC 2018). It is
more severe than anticipated, threat-
ening natural ecosystems and the fate
of humanity (IPCC 2019). Especially
worrisome are potential irreversible
climate tipping points and natures
reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric,
marine, and terrestrial) that could lead
to a catastrophic “hothouse Earth,
well beyond the control of humans
(Steffen et al. 2018). These climate
Figure 1. Change in global human activities from 1979 to the present. These indicators are linked at least in part to
climate change. In panel (f), annual tree cover loss may be for any reason (e.g., wildfire, harvest within tree plantations,
or conversion of forests to agricultural land). Forest gain is not involved in the calculation of tree cover loss. In panel (h),
hydroelectricity and nuclear energy are shown in figure S2. The rates shown in panels are the percentage changes per
decade across the entire range of the time series. The annual data are shown using gray points. The black lines are local
regression smooth trend lines. Abbreviation: Gt oe per year, gigatonnes of oil equivalent per year. Sources and additional
details about each variable are provided in supplemental file S2, including table S2.
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10 BioScience January 2020 / Vol. 70 No. 1
chain reactions could cause significant
disruptions to ecosystems, society, and
economies, potentially making large
areas of Earth uninhabitable.
To secure a sustainable future, we
must change how we live, in ways that
improve the vital signs summarized
by our graphs. Economic and popu-
lation growth are among the most
important drivers of increases in CO
emissions from fossil fuel combustion
(Pachauri et al. 2014, Bongaarts and
ONeill 2018); therefore, we need bold
and drastic transformations regarding
economic and population policies. We
suggest six critical and interrelated
steps (in no particular order) that gov-
ernments, businesses, and the rest of
Figure 2. Climatic response time series from 1979 to the present. The rates shown in the panels are the decadal change
rates for the entire ranges of the time series. These rates are in percentage terms, except for the interval variables (d, f, g,
h, i, k), where additive changes are reported instead. For ocean acidity (pH), the percentage rate is based on the change
in hydrogen ion activity, a
(where lower pH values represent greater acidity). The annual data are shown using gray
points. The black lines are local regression smooth trend lines. Sources and additional details about each variable are
provided in supplemental file S2, including table S3.
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Viewpoint January 2020 / Vol. 70 No. 1 BioScience 11
humanity can take to lessen the worst
effects of climate change. These are
important steps but are not the only
actions needed or possible (Pachauri
et al. 2014, IPCC 2018, 2019).
The world must quickly implement
massive energy efficiency and conser-
vation practices and must replace fos-
sil fuels with low-carbon renewables
(figure 1h) and other cleaner sources
of energy if safe for people and the
environment (figure S2). We should
leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels
in the ground (see the timelines in
IPCC 2018) and should carefully pur-
sue effective negative emissions using
technology such as carbon extraction
from the source and capture from
the air and especially by enhancing
natural systems (see “Nature” section).
Wealthier countries need to support
poorer nations in transitioning away
from fossil fuels. We must swiftly elim-
inate subsidies for fossil fuels (figure
1o) and use effective and fair policies
for steadily escalating carbon prices to
restrain their use.
Short-lived pollutants
We need to promptly reduce the emis-
sions of short-lived climate pollutants,
including methane (figure 2b), black
carbon (soot), and hydrofluorocar-
bons (HFCs). Doing this could slow
climate feedback loops and poten-
tially reduce the short-term warming
trend by more than 50% over the next
few decades while saving millions of
lives and increasing crop yields due to
reduced air pollution (Shindell et al.
2017). The 2016 Kigali amendment to
phase down HFCs is welcomed.
We must protect and restore Earths
ecosystems. Phytoplankton, coral reefs,
forests, savannas, grasslands, wetlands,
peatlands, soils, mangroves, and sea
grasses contribute greatly to sequestra-
tion of atmospheric CO
. Marine and
terrestrial plants, animals, and micro-
organisms play significant roles in car-
bon and nutrient cycling and storage.
We need to quickly curtail habitat
and biodiversity loss (figure 1f–1g),
protecting the remaining primary and
intact forests, especially those with
high carbon stores and other forests
with the capacity to rapidly sequester
carbon (proforestation), while increas-
ing reforestation and afforestation
where appropriate at enormous scales.
Although available land may be limit-
ing in places, up to a third of emissions
reductions needed by 2030 for the
Paris agreement (less than 2°C) could
be obtained with these natural climate
solutions (Griscom et al. 2017).
Eating mostly plant-based foods while
reducing the global consumption of ani-
mal products (figure 1c–d), especially
ruminant livestock (Ripple et al. 2014),
can improve human health and signifi-
cantly lower GHG emissions (including
methane in the “Short-lived pollutants”
step). Moreover, this will free up crop-
lands for growing much-needed human
plant food instead of livestock feed,
while releasing some grazing land to
support natural climate solutions (see
“Nature” section). Cropping practices
such as minimum tillage that increase
soil carbon are vitally important. We
need to drastically reduce the enormous
amount of food waste around the world.
Excessive extraction of materials and
overexploitation of ecosystems, driven
by economic growth, must be quickly
curtailed to maintain long-term sus-
tainability of the biosphere. We need
a carbon-free economy that explic-
itly addresses human dependence on
the biosphere and policies that guide
economic decisions accordingly. Our
goals need to shift from GDP growth
and the pursuit of affluence toward
sustaining ecosystems and improving
human well-being by prioritizing basic
needs and reducing inequality.
Still increasing by roughly 80 million
people per year, or more than 200,000
per day (figure 1a–b), the world
population must be stabilized—and,
ideally, gradually reduced—within a
framework that ensures social integrity.
There are proven and effective policies
that strengthen human rights while
lowering fertility rates and lessening
the impacts of population growth on
GHG emissions and biodiversity loss.
These policies make family-planning
services available to all people, remove
barriers to their access and achieve
full gender equity, including primary
and secondary education as a global
norm for all, especially girls and young
women (Bongaarts and O’Neill 2018).
Mitigating and adapting to climate
change while honoring the diversity
of humans entails major transforma-
tions in the ways our global society
functions and interacts with natural
ecosystems. We are encouraged by a
recent surge of concern. Governmental
bodies are making climate emergency
declarations. Schoolchildren are strik-
ing. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding
in the courts. Grassroots citizen move-
ments are demanding change, and
many countries, states and provinces,
cities, and businesses are responding.
As the Alliance of World Scientists,
we stand ready to assist decision-mak-
ers in a just transition to a sustainable
and equitable future. We urge wide-
spread use of vital signs, which will
better allow policymakers, the pri-
vate sector, and the public to under-
stand the magnitude of this crisis,
track progress, and realign priorities
for alleviating climate change. The
good news is that such transforma-
tive change, with social and economic
justice for all, promises far greater
human well-being than does business
as usual. We believe that the prospects
will be greatest if decision-makers and
all of humanity promptly respond to
this warning and declaration of a cli-
mate emergency and act to sustain life
on planet Earth, our only home.
Contributing reviewers
Franz Baumann, Ferdinando Boero,
Doug Boucher, Stephen Briggs, Peter
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12 BioScience January 2020 / Vol. 70 No. 1
Carter, Rick Cavicchioli, Milton Cole,
Eileen Crist, Dominick A. DellaSala,
Paul Ehrlich, Iñaki Garcia-De-Cortazar,
Daniel Gilfillan, Alison Green, Tom
Green, Jillian Gregg, Paul Grogan, John
Guillebaud, John Harte, Nick Houtman,
Charles Kennel, Christopher Martius,
Frederico Mestre, Jennie Miller, David
Pengelley, Chris Rapley, Klaus Rohde,
Phil Sollins, Sabrina Speich, David
Victor, Henrik Wahren, and Roger
The Worthy Garden Club furnished
partial funding for this project.
Project website
To view the Alliance of World
Scientists website or to sign this arti-
cle, go to https://scientistswarning.
Supplemental material
Supplemental data are available at
BIOSCI online. A list of the signatories
appears in supplemental file S1.
References cited
Briggs S, Kennel CF, Victor DG. 2015. Planetary
vital signs. Nature Climate Change 5: 969.
Bongaarts J, O’Neill BC. 2018. Global warming
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William J. Ripple (
and Christopher Wolf (christopher.wolf@ are affiliated with the
Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society
at Oregon State University, in Corvallis and
contributed equally to the work. Thomas M.
Newsome is affiliated with the School of Life
and Environmental Sciences at The University
of Sydney, in Sydney, New South Wales,
Australia. Phoebe Barnard is affiliated with the
Conservation Biology Institute, in Corvallis,
Oregon, and with the African Climate and
Development Initiative, at the University of Cape
Town, in Cape Town, South Africa. William R.
Moomaw is affiliated with The Fletcher School
and the Global Development and Environment
Institute, at Tufts University, in Medford,
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The first "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity" was written in 1992 by Henry W. Kendall and signed by 1,700 leading scientists, including the majority of the Nobel laureates in the sciences. In November 2017, 15,364 scientists signed World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice written by William J. Ripple. This is the Third Notice, and is also led by William Ripple. For more background: "The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to increase the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, and at making finance flows consistent with a low GHG emissions and climate-resilient pathway." Source: In 1979 at the First World Climate Conference, governments were called "to foresee and prevent potential man-made changes in climate that might be adverse to the well-being of humanity." William J. Ripple is a professor of ecology at Oregon State University in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, and has led the Second and Third versions of a "World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency." His bio: The full list is obviously very long...It can be found here: