The world just got 20 seconds closer to catastrophe with the hands of the Doomsday Clock being inched nearer to midnight.
The symbolic clock, run by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is designed to represent how far the world is from annihilation.
In an announcement live-streamed on a webcast on Friday morning (Australian time), the Bulletin – a group of world leaders and Nobel Laureates – moved the minute hand to 100 seconds to midnight.
It is the closest the clock has come to signalling a global meltdown in its 73-year history — closer even than at any point during the Cold War.
The Bulletin, which was founded after the creation of the atomic bomb in World War II and focuses on the greatest threats to human survival, warns that civilisation-ending nuclear war is a genuine possibility.
The keepers of the Doomsday Clock added that climate change that could devastate the planet is undeniably happening, citing bushfires from the Arctic to Australia.
The panel also declared a lack of leadership from the world’s governments and institutions had failed to mitigate the threat of climate change – and had sometimes even even increased the risk of a catastrophe.
In a statement, the organisation said the nuclear and climate dangers were “compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare that undercuts society’s ability to respond”.
“The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode,” it said.
“We are now expressing how close the world is to catastrophe in seconds – not hours, or even minutes,” the Bulletin’s president and chief executive, Rachel Bronson, said.
“We now face a true emergency – an absolutely unacceptable state of world affairs that has eliminated any margin for error or further delay,” she said.
Former California governor Jerry Brown, the Bulletin’s executive chairman, warned that “dangerous rivalry and hostility among the superpowers increases the likelihood of nuclear blunder”.
“Climate change just compounds the crisis,” he said.
“If there’s ever a time to wake up, it’s now.”
The Doomsday Clock didn’t move in 2019 but in 2018 it advanced by 30 seconds from two-and-a-half-minutes before midnight to two minutes to midnight.
As the symbolic clock was moved, the Bulletin’s experts were joined by former Irish president Mary Robinson. She now leads The Elders, a group of prominent former world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela, and ex-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – now deputy chairman of The Elders.
“Our mechanisms for collaboration are being undermined when we need them most,” Mr Ban said, citing the US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal to deadlock at nuclear disarmament talks, as well as divisions in the UN Security Council.
Ms Robinson called on world leaders to join in working “to pull humanity back from the brink”.
The decision to move the clock forward was made by the group’s science and security board, in consultations with its board of sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates.