News Release

Pandemic update to the world scientists' warning of a climate emergency

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Holland Island House

image: The last remaining house on Holland Island that collapsed and was torn down in the 2010s as erosion and tides reached the foundation. view more 

Credit: baldeaglebluff (CC BY-SA 2.0).

In a year marked by unprecedented flooding, deadly avalanches, and scorching heat waves and wildfires, the climate emergency's enormous cost—whether measured in lost resources or human lives—is all too apparent. Writing in BioScience (, a group led by William J. Ripple and Christopher Wolf, both with Oregon State University, update their striking 2019 "World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency" ( with new data on the climate's health. The news is not good.

Although fossil fuel use dipped slightly in 2020, a widely predicted result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authors report that carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide "have all set new year-to-date records for atmospheric concentrations in both 2020 and 2021." Furthermore, many tracked planetary vital signs, reflecting metrics such as sea level rise, ocean heat content, and ice mass, have also set disquieting records. However, there were a few bright spots, including fossil fuel subsidies reaching a record low and fossil fuel divestment reaching a record high.

"The updated planetary vital signs we present largely reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual," say Ripple, Wolf, and colleagues, adding that "a major lesson from COVID-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required."

The authors suggest that only profound changes in human behavior can meet the challenges of the extant climate emergency. Among their other recommendations, the authors highlight the need for a significant global carbon price, the phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels, and the development of global strategic climate reserves to protect and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity. They also call for climate education to be included in school curricula, with the aim of bolstering climate awareness and encouraging learners to take urgently needed climate action.

Ripple, Wolf, and colleagues close with a reinvigorated call for global collaboration to drive fundamental change: "Policies to alleviate the climate crisis or any of the other threatened planetary boundary transgressions should not be focused on symptom relief but on addressing their root cause: the overexploitation of the Earth." Only by tackling this root cause, the authors suggest, will we be able to "ensure the long-term sustainability of human civilization and give future generations the opportunity to thrive."


BioScience, published monthly by Oxford Journals, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience is a forum for integrating the life sciences that publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles. The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an organization for professional scientific societies and organizations, and individuals, involved with biology. AIBS provides decision-makers with high-quality, vetted information for the advancement of biology and society. Follow BioScience on Twitter @AIBSbiology.

Oxford Journals is a division of Oxford University Press. Oxford Journals publishes well over 300 academic and research journals covering a broad range of subject areas, two-thirds of which are published in collaboration with learned societies and other international organizations. The division has been publishing journals for more than a century, and as part of the world's oldest and largest university press, has more than 500 years of publishing expertise behind it. Follow Oxford Journals on Twitter @OxfordJournals.

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