THE BLOG
01/28/2015 05:19 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Three Minutes to Midnight

With only 180 seconds left before the minute hand strikes midnight, the four horsemen and the apocalypse may soon be before us. That's according to the symbolic doomsday clock which inched two minutes closer towards midnight last week.

Announcing the shift, Kennette Benedict, the executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned:

"Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race pose an extraordinary and undeniable threat to the continued existence of humanity. And, world leaders have failed to act with the speed and the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures in leadership endanger every person on earth."

Sounding the alarm on the gravest threat to mankind since the nuclear stand off between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the symbolic clock was originally created in 1947 in response to the Cold War.

But, now the gathering storm of nuclear proliferation, and global warming have pushed the minute hand even closer towards the apocalypse.

The news comes one week after scientists confirmed that 2014 shattered warm weather records across the entire globe. That means that nine of the 10 hottest years in history have all taken place this century.

So far, owing to the unprecedented burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, world temperatures have risen by around 0.8 degrees Celsius, with most of that warming taking place over the last three decades.

And, according to a blockbuster climate report produced by the UN last year, our world is only going to get hotter, much hotter. It says that our planet may warm by more than two degrees celsius within the next thirty years.

The head of the World Bank says that such a temperature rise will push millions of people into poverty as basic resources such as food and water slip out of reach.

As I've written before, "That means that children being born today will become the victims of life on a much hotter planet by the time they reach young adulthood."

That's why NASA's former top climate scientist James Hansen describes the 2C target as "a prescription for long term disaster." He says that man made climate change is a huge a "moral failing" on par with slavery.

But, however grim the situation may seem, Benedict did stress that the situation is not helpless: "There is still time to act, but it will have to come soon, very soon, in order to avert catastrophe."

Eleven months before heads of state gather in Paris for make or break UN climate talks, let there be no illusions: our current generation of leaders have a huge responsibility to act. And, we as the people, have a grave moral duty to make sure that they do.

In the words of actor Leonardo DiCaprio as he addressed heads of state at the United Nations last September: "You can make history, or be vilified by it."

After all, although we are the first generation to bear witness to the destructive impacts of global warming, we are the only generation that can actually fight climate change.

That's because carbon emissions remain trapped in our atmosphere for decades if not centuries, meaning that even if all greenhouse gases stopped tomorrow, our planet would still be locked in for a certain amount of warming.

Five years ago, world leaders promised to limit the warming of our planet to two degrees Celsius. And, in order to stand by that vow, they will have to strike an ambitious deal to radically curb their carbon emissions by the time they gather in Paris this December.

As the U.S., China and India are the world's three largest emitters of greenhouse gases, any hope of saving our climate will depend on the commitment of these superpowers.

Last November, Washington and Beijing lead the charge by announcing a landmark deal to reduce their emissions.

As I've noted, "President Barack Obama vowed that America will cut its carbon pollution by over a quarter over the next ten years. And, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping pledged that his nation's greenhouse gases will peak by 2030."

Obama's charm offensive is now aimed at India. If the world's third largest polluter also enters the fray, it could trigger a domino effect, forcing developing and developed nations to also get on board.

According to a recent roadmap presented to the UN, in order to limit the warming of our planet to 2C, the world's 15 largest economies will all have to step up to the plate.

The UN says that three quarters of existing fossil fuel reserves will need to stay in the ground.

At last year's climate talks in Lima, some delegates suggested phasing out oil, gas and coal within the next 35 years. Such a proposal raised the rancor of oil producing nations such as Saudi Arabia.

But, according to a new report published in Nature, 260 billion barrels of Middle Eastern oil will have to remain buried in order to meet the 2C target. That's the equivalent of Saudi Arabia's entire oil reserves.

A system of financial compensation for fossil fuel producing nations is thus key to striking a strong accord in Paris this year. As Michael Jakob from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change notes: "If you really want to convince developing countries to leave their coal in the ground, you have to offer something else and I don't think the Saudis will leave that oil in the ground if they get nothing for it."

According to Carbon Tracker, a London based think tank, if world governments commit to an ambitious Paris treaty this December, oil, gas and coal companies could see billions of dollars wiped off their balance sheets.

As I've written before, last November, the former head of UK oil giant BP, Lord Browne urged "he urged energy companies to reform, or face redundancy in the face of the 'existential threat' posed by climate change." A few weeks later, the Bank of England expressed its concerns over the risks that fossil fuel assets may pose to the financial system.

But, even though a sea change is certainly palpable, the more pressing question is: will it be fast enough. After all, our window for opportunity is rapidly closing, and all life on earth hangs in the balance.

In the words of Albert Einstein: "Those with the privilege to know have a duty to act." Standing at this fork in the road, with only three minutes left before the clock strikes midnight, may 2015 be remembered as the year that we all rose up to take climate action.