Global warming could trigger a nuclear war, a financial crisis or an extinction-level pandemic by 2070

As global temperatures continue to rise, a new study has warned that we are getting dangerously close to a ‘climate endgame’.

Cambridge University researchers say global warming could trigger a nuclear war, financial crisis or extinction-level pandemic as early as 2070.

Based on their findings, the researchers call on authorities to start preparing for such events.

“There are many reasons to believe that climate change could become catastrophic even at modest levels of warming,” said study lead author Dr Luke Kemp.

Cambridge University researchers say global warming could trigger a nuclear war, financial crisis or extinction-level pandemic as early as 2070

The “four horsemen” of the climatic endgame

The researchers propose that research is needed in four key areas, which they call the “four horsemen” of the climate endgame.

These include starvation and malnutrition, extreme weather conditions, conflict and vector-borne diseases.

Global food supplies are under threat from rising temperatures, with a growing risk of “breadcrumbs” as the world’s most agriculturally productive areas suffer “collective collapses”, say the researchers.

More extreme weather could also create conditions ripe for new outbreaks as habitats for humans and wildlife shift and shrink.

Meanwhile, the risk of “interactive” threats such as democratic collapses and new forms of destructive AI weapons are also likely to increase as the temperature rises.

For example, the researchers say “hot wars” could become common, in which technologically-enhanced superpowers fight both for shrinking carbon space and giant experiments to deflect sunlight and reduce global temperatures.

“Climate change has played a role in every mass extinction event. It helped bring down empires and shaped history. Even the modern world seems adapted to a particular climatic niche.

“Pathways to disaster are not limited to the direct impacts of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events.

“Ripple effects such as financial crises, conflicts and new epidemics could trigger further calamities and hamper recovery from potential disasters such as nuclear war.”

In the study, the team used modeling to estimate the consequences of warming of 3°C (5.4°F) and beyond.

Their estimates indicate that extreme heat zones where average annual temperatures are above 29°C (84°F) will cover two billion people by 2070.

Worryingly, these areas are among the most politically fragile, as well as the most densely populated, according to the team.

“Average annual temperatures of 29 degrees currently affect about 30 million people in the Sahara and the Gulf Coast,” said co-author Chi Xu of Nanjing University.

“By 2070, these temperatures and their social and political consequences will directly affect two nuclear powers, and seven maximum containment laboratories housing the most dangerous pathogens.

“There is serious potential for disastrous ripple effects.”

The researchers propose that research is needed in four key areas, which they call the “four horsemen” of the climate endgame.

These include starvation and malnutrition, extreme weather conditions, conflict and vector-borne diseases.

This map shows the overlap between state fragility, extreme heat, and catastrophic nuclear and biological risks

This map shows the overlap between state fragility, extreme heat, and catastrophic nuclear and biological risks

Earth Overshoot Day is sooner than EVER

Humans have already used up a year’s worth of natural resources in 2022 – a calendar event known as Earth Overshoot Day.

The annual date marks the point at which humanity has used all the biological resources the Earth can regenerate during that year.

But in 2022, that’s sooner than ever, largely due to a demand for food, land, timber and new urban infrastructure to meet a growing population.

The demand for these resources exceeds the Earth’s biocapacity – its ability to renew these resources – which means that we are now effectively in short supply.

It also means that we have exceeded the planet’s annual capacity to absorb waste products such as carbon dioxide.

Co-author Professor Kristie Ebi of the University of Washington said: “We need an interdisciplinary effort to understand how climate change could trigger massive human morbidity and mortality.”

Global food supplies are under threat from rising temperatures, with a growing risk of “breadcrumbs” as the world’s most agriculturally productive areas suffer “collective collapses”, say the researchers.

More extreme weather could also create conditions ripe for new outbreaks as habitats for humans and wildlife shift and shrink.

Meanwhile, the risk of “interactive” threats such as democratic collapses and new forms of destructive AI weapons are also likely to increase as the temperature rises.

For example, the researchers say “hot wars” could become common, in which technologically-enhanced superpowers fight both for shrinking carbon space and giant experiments to deflect sunlight and reduce global temperatures.

“The more we learn about how our planet works, the more we worry,” said co-author Professor Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We increasingly understand that our planet is a more sophisticated and fragile organism.

“We have to calculate the disaster in order to avoid it.”

Professor Kemp concluded: ‘We know that increasing temperature has a ‘fat tail’, meaning a wide range of lower probabilities but potentially extreme outcomes.

“Facing a future of accelerating climate change while remaining blind to worst-case scenarios is naïve risk management at best and fatal folly at worst.”

Teresa H. Sadler