The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has decided to advance the hands of the Doomsday Clock this year. This decision is partly (but not solely) based on the increasing threats faced by the conflict in Ukraine. The Clock is now showing that there are just 90 seconds to midnight, which is the closest that we have ever been to a worldwide disaster.
Doomsday Clock 2023 in Detail
On Tuesday, January 24, at ten o’clock in the morning Eastern Time, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, held a virtual press conference to reveal whether or not the time shown on the iconic Doomsday Clock would be adjusted. Since the year 2020, the countdown on the Doomsday Clock had been set at exactly 100 seconds to midnight, which is the closest it had ever been. Until this morning.
The Bulletin speaks of the war in Ukraine being largely in part of this decision to move the time to 90 seconds to midnight.
“The war in Ukraine may enter a second horrifying year, with both sides convinced they can win. Ukraine’s sovereignty and broader European security arrangements that have largely held since the end of World War II are at stake. Also, Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised profound questions about how states interact, eroding norms of international conduct that underpin successful responses to a variety of global risks,” they noted.
Because of this uncertainty, and “Russia’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons”, there is still a significant chance that the dispute may escalate beyond anyone’s ability to manage it. This is a reminder of how dangerous this situation is and how close we are to a global catastrophe.
Additionally, they go on to say that Russia has carried the conflict to the nuclear reactor sites of Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia, which is a violation of international standards and puts the world in danger of a broad release of radioactive materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency‘s efforts to obtain these plants have so far been unsuccessful. They have been met with resistance.
To top things up, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned in August that the world has entered “a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War,” letting us know that the world is now one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’.
Doomsday Clock 2023 and Climate Change
The impacts of the conflict are not restricted to an increase in the threat posed by nuclear weapons; rather, they significantly hinder efforts being made on a worldwide scale to mitigate climate change. Countries that are reliant on Russian oil and gas have made efforts to diversify their supplies and suppliers, which has led to an increase in investments in natural gas at a time when these types of investments should have been decreasing.
After having recovered from the COVID-induced economic downturn to reach an all-time high in 2021, the global carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels continued to climb in 2022 and reached another record high. The decrease in emissions that China saw was eclipsed by increases in other countries, like the United States and India.
At its annual discussions in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the UN climate regime made a hopeful step forward on the adaptation front. This occurred against the background of this year’s climate-related disasters. At the United Nations climate change conference, the parties involved achieved a compromise agreement to establish a fund that would assist low-income and vulnerable nations in tackling the growing toll caused by the effects of climate change. In order to accomplish what is set out to do, there must be a continuation of the collaborative effort that resulted in the signing of this agreement during the negotiations that will take place in the year to come. These discussions will centre on whether or not countries will actually contribute money to the fund.
However, nations were unable to establish a consensus on a formal resolution to agree to the phase-out of fossil fuels, and what’s even more depressing is that they did almost nothing to ensure that earlier agreements to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases would be honored.
The decision to take the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight was made by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board and the Bulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 11 Nobel Laureates.