“Time is no longer on our side”, the UK Government’s special representative for climate change has warned.
Sir David King has issued the blunt ultimatum in a bid to raise awareness of the threat that a global temperature rise of even just a few degree Celsius poses to the world.
The professor, who was appointed to the global warming role by the foreign secretary in 2013, believes time was wasted in reaching the historic Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions.
Nearly 200 countries adopted the terms of the framework treaty at a special 21st meeting of the UN back in December 2015.
The deal is the first-ever aimed at tackling global greenhouse gas emissions.
But Sir David said the delay in making the pact means the clock is now ticking ever closer towards a worldwide time-bomb.
The former Chief Scientific Advisor to the government said that in a worst case scenario some of mankind’s greatest cities could flood, economies could collapse and millions of people be left starving to death.
Sir David said: “The risks of global warming are really quite severe. If we don’t manage this problem we are going to be faced with quite dramatic challenges to all of our economies.
“We could see sea level rises in the region of metres if we are very unlucky – and we have to look at the possibility of being very unlucky.
“Cities that are based on coastlines – Calcutta, Mumbai, Shanghai, New York and London – these are all at risk if sea levels rise.”
He added: “Quite frankly it took us 21 years to get that agreement in Paris
“We really have wasted an awful lot of time. Time is no longer on our side.
“We need to move on this and we need to move on this quickly.”
Sir David issued the warning before delivering a lecture on the topic to the Energy Insitute (EI) in Aberdeen earlier this week.
The lecture was described as “enlightening” and “sobering” by EI members.
Sir David, who holds 22 honorary degrees from universities around the world, said the issue of climate change must be managed carefully to ensure economic stability.
He said: “The objective is to do this is in a painless way, not to harm economic growth but also to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem we are faced with.
“We’re seeing that every society is destabilized by going through the transition to higher temperatures and higher sea levels.
“Every society around the world is already fully acclimatised to the limits of their climate system from winter through summer.”
Sir David gave an example of rice paddy fields in Asia.
He said they are so sensitive to temperature change that an increase of a few degrees over a few days days could result in no rice being produced.
The same would apply to rising sea levels salinating fields.
This would not only impacts China’s food chain, but also the export market – and crucially it would place a huge demand on the international markets as China seeks to feed hungry mouths.
Sir David added: “It will affect everyone.”
But there is a glimmer of hope: money, the great motivator.
He claims that the marketplace for innovative technology to decarbonise the energy industry was worth trillions of dollars over the coming decades.
Sir David added: “We really need to be shifting away from fossil fuels to provide all of the energy that we need.
“We have to replace that with renewable energies, energy storage, smart grids – new clean technologies coming through to the market pace.
“My message is that this new marketplace is the new wealth creating opportunity for the global economy.”