Doomsday Clock closer to apocalypse than ever before, nuclear war 'genuine possibility'

With "civilisation-ending nuclear war" a "genuine possibility" and climate change devastating the planet, Earth is closer to an apocalypse than ever before, according to the team behind the Doomsday Clock.

The clock, a representation of the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe and maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1945, has moved to 100 seconds to midnight. Midnight symbolises an apocalypse, and the scientists' decision on Friday means the world is closer to peril than ever before - worse than during the Cold War.

In a letter to "leaders and citizens of the world", the scientists say humanity faces two great threats - nuclear war and climate change. This is "compounded" by the threat of cyber-warfare and world leaders not confronting issues. 

Addressing the nuclear issues, the scientists say major control treaties have been undermined by leaders - likely a dig at US President Donald Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, which has led to heightened tension between the two countries. Nothing has also come of talks between Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un, while there is little cooperation between the US and Russia on arms control.

While the scientists say awareness of climate change grew in 2019 - with many well-attended student protests across the globe and teen Greta Thunberg's success at creating conversations about the issue - government action continues to fall short. 

"At UN climate meetings last year, national delegates made fine speeches but put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth's climate," a statement from the scientists said. 

"This limited political response came during a year when the effects of manmade climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice."

2019 was the second-hottest year on record for the planet, with the average temperature up 1.1C on between 1850 and 1900. New Zealand had its fourth-warmest year ever, up 0.76C on the average between 1981 and 2010.

The scientists also said that the information upon which democracies and public decisions are based has continued to be corrupted, with disinformation campaigns and fake news sowing distrust. 

"Over the last two years, we have seen influential leaders denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats - international agreements with strong verification regimes - in favour of their own narrow interests and domestic political gain.

"These leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later."

In announcing the clock's hands moving closer to midnight, the scientists sent an explicit warning to leaders and citizens "that the international security situation is now more dangerous than it has ever been, even at the height of the Cold War". 

"Civilisation-ending nuclear war - whether started by design, blunder, or simple miscommunication - is a genuine possibility. Climate change that could devastate the planet is undeniably happening."

The furthest the clock has gone from midnight was in 1991 when the Cold War finished and the US and Russia made cuts to their nuclear arsenals. Since then the hands have slowly gotten closer, with concerns about cooling relations between the US and Russia, North Korea and nuclear development in the Middle East.

The full statement from the Bulletin can be found here, as well as biographies of all the participating scientists.

Contact Newshub with your story tips: