He further emphasised that these sanctions will target individuals connected to Navalny's imprisonment, and several Russian sectors.
The Doomsday Clock innovated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has gained widespread recognition as a symbol of the existential threat facing humanity. In this imagined clock midnight is regarded as the catastrophic moment humanity must avoid under all conditions to escape an existential threat. In the statement released in late January 2024, the clock has been set at just 90 seconds to midnight, conveying the extreme seriousness of the existential crisis. This latest Doomsday Clock statement (henceforth referred to as DC24 statement) says, “Ominous trends continue to point the world toward global catastrophe. The war in Ukraine and the widespread and growing reliance on nuclear weapons increase the risk of nuclear escalation.
China, Russia, and the United States are all spending huge sums to expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals, adding to the ever-present danger of nuclear war through mistake or miscalculation.” Further in 2023, Earth experienced its hottest year on record, and massive floods, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters affected millions of people around the world.
The members of the Science and Security Board set the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight in 2019 and at 100 seconds to midnight in 2022. In 2023 they expressed heightened concern by moving the Clock to 90 seconds to midnight – the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been and in 2024 this has been retained at the same level. The DC24 statement says, “World’s leaders must respond urgently, as if today were the most dangerous moment in modern history.”
Listing the growing threat of nuclear weapons in various countries, this statement asserts that nuclear spending programmes in the three largest nuclear powers – China, Russia, and the United States – threaten to trigger a three-way nuclear arms race as the world’s arms control architecture collapses. At the same time, Iran continues to enrich uranium to close to weapons grade while stonewalling the International Atomic Energy Agency on key issues. Efforts to reinstate an Iran nuclear deal appear unlikely to succeed, this statement says, while North Korea continues building nuclear weapons and longrange missiles. Drawing attention to the latest threat to emerge to world peace, this statement says that the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has the potential to escalate into a wider Middle Eastern conflict that could pose unpredictable threats, regionally and globally.
Regarding climate change, this statement says that the world in 2023 entered uncharted territory as it suffered its hottest year on record and global greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. Both global and North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures broke records, and Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest daily extent since the advent of satellite data. The world invested $1.7 trillion in clean energy in 2023 but at the same time there were fossil fuel investments of nearly $1 trillion. Drawing attention to more newly emerging threats, this statement points out that the revolution in life sciences and associated technologies continued to expand in scope last year, including, especially, the increased sophistication and efficiency of genetic engineering technologies. One issue of special concern highlighted in this statement is the convergence of emerging artificial intelligence tools and biological technologies which may radically empower individuals to misuse biology.
As this statement emphasizes, one of the most significant technological developments in the last year involved the dramatic advance of generative artificial intelligence. The apparent sophistication of chatbots based on large language models, such as ChatGPT, led some respected experts to express concern about existential risks arising from further rapid advancements in the field. However others argue that claims about existential risk distract from the real and immediate threats that AI poses today. The DC24 statement asserts that AI has great potential to magnify disinformation and corrupt the information environment on which democracy depends. AI-enabled disinformation efforts could be a factor that prevents the world from dealing effectively with nuclear risks, pandemics, and climate change, this statement says. Drawing attention to very big emerging threats, this statement says, “Military uses of AI are accelerating. Extensive use of AI is already occurring in intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, simulation, and training. Of particular concern are lethal autonomous weapons, which identify and destroy targets without human intervention. Decisions to put AI in control of important physical systems – in particular, nuclear weapons – could indeed pose a direct existential threat to humanity.” Initial steps to check such serious emerging threats include an international declaration to address AI risks and the formation of a new UN advisory body. However these are only “tiny steps”, this statement says, and much more must be done to institute effective rules and norms. In its conclusion which will find wide support, the DC24 statement says, “Everyone on Earth has an interest in reducing the likelihood of global catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, advances in the life sciences, disruptive technologies, and the widespread corruption of the world’s information ecosystem.
These threats, singularly and as they interact, are of such a character and magnitude that no one nation or leader can bring them under control. That is the task of leaders and nations working together in the shared belief that common threats demand common action.” In terms of a more immediate suggestion this statement adds that “despite their profound disagreements, three of the world’s leading powers – the United States, China, and Russia – should commence serious dialogue about each of the global threats outlined here. At the highest levels, these three countries need to take responsibility for the existential danger the world now faces. They have the capacity to pull the world back from the brink of catastrophe. They should do so, with clarity and courage, and without delay.”
(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and A Day in 2071.)