Earth’s ‘vital signs’ worse than at any time in human history, scientists warn

Life on planet is in peril, say climate experts, as they call for a rapid and just transition to a sustainable future

By Damian Carrington
Oct 24, 2023

Earth’s “vital signs” are worse than at any time in human history, an international team of scientists has warned, meaning life on the planet is in peril.

Their report found that 20 of the 35 planetary vital signs they use to track the climate crisis are at record extremes. As well as greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature and sea level rise, the indicators also include human and livestock population numbers.

Many climate records were broken by enormous margins in 2023, including global air temperature, ocean temperature and Antarctic sea ice extent, the researchers said. The highest monthly surface temperature ever recorded was in July and was probably the hottest the planet has been in 100,000 years.

The scientists also highlighted an extraordinary wildfire season in Canada that produced unprecedented carbon dioxide emissions. These totalled 1bn tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the entire annual output of Japan, the world’s fifth biggest polluter. They said the huge area burned could indicate a tipping point into a new fire regime.

The researchers urged a transition to a global economy that prioritised human wellbeing and cut the overconsumption and excessive emissions of the rich. The top 10% of emitters were responsible for almost 50% of global emissions in 2019, they said.

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