Study: People under 40 to experience ‘unprecedented life’ of climate disasters

People born in 2021 will experience catastrophically more climate disasters compared with people born 60 years ago, according to a recent study published on Sept. 26 in the journal "Science" — and so will people living today who are under the age of 40. 

Researchers noted that children born this year will experience double the amount of devastating wildfires seen today, and nearly three times as many droughts and crop failures. 

The study’s lead author Wim Thiery explained in a statement published by the Imperial College London that "people younger than 40 today will live an unprecedented life even under the most stringent climate change mitigation scenarios."

"Our results highlight a severe threat to the safety of young generations and call for drastic emission reductions to safeguard their future," Thiery added. 

The study was conducted by a team of more than 30 researchers from various European universities and was led by Vrije Universiteit Brussel, a public university in Belgium.

Researchers analyzed differing generational exposures to environmental disasters including droughts, heatwaves, crop failures, flooding and wildfires. They noted that reaching the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming levels to pre-industrial temperatures is critical in helping future generations avoid experiencing severe environmental impacts. 

RELATED: Paris Climate Agreement: What it is, how it started and what happens now that the US has rejoined

The Paris Agreement is a 2015 international pact that nearly 200 nations have signed. Each country provides its own goal and commitment to curbing emissions of heat-trapping gases that lead to climate change and global warming.

As part of the agreement, countries agree to find ways to reduce global carbon emissions to help limit the warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — a limit that scientists say, if reached, will up the consequences of climate change by the end of the century.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. is currently the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, just behind China.

In the next five years, the world has nearly a one-in-four chance of experiencing a year that’s hot enough to put the global temperature at 2.7 degrees (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial times, according to a new science update released in September 2020 by the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

That 1.5 degrees Celsius is the more stringent of two limits set in 2015 by world leaders in the Paris climate change agreement. A 2018 U.N. science report said a world hotter than that still survives, but chances of dangerous problems increase tremendously. 

Separately in April, an intelligence forecast from the National Intelligence Council painted a grim picture of a world fragmented by the lasting impacts of the these threats to humanity. 

The report — published every four years — is titled "Global Trends," and was released on Thursday by the National Intelligence Council. It is intended to help policymakers and citizens anticipate the economic, environmental, technological and demographic forces likely to shape the world through the next 20 years.

During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of its fragility and demonstrated the inherent risks of high levels of interdependence. In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises," the report read.

In January, the Doomsday Clock was set to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest symbolic point to humanity’s destruction since the Cold War when the U.S. and Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons.

The decision to move the hands of the clock is made by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board in correspondence with the Bulletin’s board of sponsors, which consist of 13 Nobel Laureates.

The time is unchanged from 2020, when the hands move the closest to midnight in the clock’s history.
On Jan. 23, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced the decision, saying the mishandling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a "wake-up call" that "governments, institutions, and a misled public remain unprepared to handle the even greater threats posed by nuclear war and climate change."

Stephanie Weaver contributed to this story.