An Australian policy paper states that by 2050, rising ocean levels will make some of the world's most populous cities uninhabitable – forcing billions of people to relocate.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on June 7, 2019

An Australian policy paper outlining a doomsday scenario for humans if there is no action taken to deal with climate change suggests that by 2050, there could be irreversible damage to global climate systems.

This would result in a world of chaos where political panic is the norm and would see us on a path facing the end of civilisation.

The scenarios “don’t seem that far-fetched to me. I don’t think there’s anything too crazy about them,” said Adam Sobel, a professor of applied physics and mathematics at Columbia University in New York City who studies atmospheric and climate dynamics.

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The climate change paper was written by David Spratt, a Research Director for Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne, and Ian Dunlop, a member of the Club of Rome and former CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. It explains a scenario for 2050 in a world where humans didn’t lower carbon emissions enough to keep the global temperature from rising.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last year said the world’s nations must quickly reduce fossil fuel use to keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Action must start now and be well underway in the next 20 years, the report stated.

The Australian climate change report imagines a world where that didn’t happen and global temperatures warmed by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or more. While that may not seem like a lot, on a worldwide scale it is expected to result in massive, catastrophic shifts to the weather, agriculture and even the habitability of some areas.

“Three degrees Celsius by 2100 is a pretty middle-of-the-road estimate. It’s not extreme and it’s totally believable,” if serious action isn’t taken, Sobel said.

Spratt and Dunlop say their scenario offers a “glimpse into a world of ‘outright chaos’ on a path to the end of human civilisation and modern society as we have known it, in which the challenges of global security are simply overwhelming and political panic becomes the norm.”

Their scenario states that in the years leading up to 2050, policymakers fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The case for the global climate-emergency mobilisation necessary to keep temperatures from rising is “politely ignored.” Global greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2030 and begin to fall due to a drop in fossil fuel use, but the damage has been done and warming reaches 3 degrees Celsius.

By 2050, sea levels have risen 0.5 metres and are projected to increase by as much as 3 metres by 2100.

Globally, 55 per cent of the population lives in areas subject to more than 20 days of lethal heat a year, beyond the human threshold of survivability.

North America suffers from devastating weather extremes, including wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and flooding. China’s summer monsoons fail and water in Asia’s great rivers are severely reduced from the loss of more than one-third of the Himalayan ice sheet.

tornado twister

Within 30 years from today, ecosystems in coral reefs and the Amazon rainforest collapse, affecting fishing yields and rainfalls.

Deadly heat conditions make many areas unliveable, resulting in more than a billion people being displaced in West Africa, tropical South America, the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Two billion people globally are affected by lack of water. Food production falls by one fifth as droughts, heat waves, flooding and storms affect crops.

Rising ocean levels make some of the world’s most populous cities uninhabitable, including Mumbai, Jakarta, Canton, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Lagos, Bangkok and Manila. Billions of people must be relocated.

This leads to fights over land, resources and water, and potentially to war and occupations.

The scenarios given in the paper are all too likely, experts say.

Jonathan Patz, a physician and director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told USA Today that he has studied the health effects of global warming for two decades.

“There are studies showing a doubling of the number of people at risk for hunger by mid-century because of droughts,” he said. “And a wider prevalence of infectious diseases like malaria, dengue and the Zika virus. It could result in forced migrations and massive refugee problems.”

He noted that just before the Syrian civil war began in 2011, one of the area’s most severe droughts on record pushed rural to urban migration rates to four times normal and resulted in food riots.

Admiral Chris Barrie, former commander of the Royal Australian Navy, wrote in a foreword to the policy paper:

“A doomsday future is not inevitable! But without immediate drastic action, our prospects are poor.”