Climate change reaching 'end-game,' could trigger societal collapse by 2050, report says

Climate change is reaching the “end-game” and could pose an existential threat by 2050, according to a new policy paper, which outlined an urgent “hothouse Earth” scenario that could be prevented with a “World War II emergency mobilization.”

Existential climate-related security risk: A scenario approach” is the paper published by Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, an independent think tank focused on climate policy located in Melbourne, Australia.

“Even for 2°C of warming, more than a billion people may need to be relocated and in high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model, with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end,” the paper said.

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the Emeritus Director of the Potsdam Institute, warns that “climate change is now reaching the end-game,” according to the paper. He said that if we continue down the present path “there is a very big risk that we will just end our civilization.” 

The paper said the human species would “survive somehow” but almost everything built up over the last 2,000 years would be destroyed. 

“After nuclear war, human-induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet,” said Chris Barrie, a retired admiral of the Royal Australian Navy, in the paper's foreword. 

The report said that “accelerating climate change impacts pose large negative consequences to humanity which might not be undone for centuries.” 

In the 2050 scenario outlined in the paper, 35 percent of the global land area, and 55 percent of the global population, are subject to more than 20 days a year of lethal heat conditions, which is “beyond the threshold of human survivability.”

North America would suffer from devastating weather extremes, including wildfires, heatwaves, drought and inundation, the report suggested. 

The destabilization of the Jet Stream would significantly affect the geographical distribution of the Asian and West African monsoons, the report said. This, along with the further slowing of the Gulf Stream, would impinge on life support systems in Europe. The summer monsoons in China would fail, and water that flows into the great rivers of Asia would be severely reduced by the loss of more than one-third of the Himalayan ice sheet, the paper asserted. 

Glacial loss would reach 70 percent in the Andes, while rainfall in Mexico and Central America would fall by half, yielding semi-permanent El Nino conditions, according to the paper. 

Aridification would emerge over more than 30 percent of the world's land surface, while desertification would be severe in southern Africa, the southern Mediterranean, west Asia, the Middle East, inland Australia and across the southwestern United States, the report said. 

A number of ecosystems would also collapse, including the coral reef systems, the Amazon rainforest and in the Arctic, according to the paper. Conditions would also be too hot for human habitation in significant food-growing regions. 

Deadly heat conditions would persist for more than 100 days per year in West Africa, tropical South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, which would contribute to more than a billion people being displaced from the tropical zone, the paper said. 

To avoid this “hothouse Earth” scenario, reduce this risk and protect human civilization, “a massive global mobilization of resources” is needed in the coming decade to build a zero-emissions industrial system and “set in train the restoration of a safe climate,” according to the paper.

“This would be akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilization,” the paper said. 

Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change, makes the case for a Marshall Plan-style construction of zero-carbon-dioxide energy supply and major electrification to build a zero-carbon industrial strategy by “a shift in productive capacity of society akin to that in World War II.”