The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 and symbolises how close the world is to global catastrophe.
A group of scientists and scholars on Thursday set the “Doomsday Clock” to a position 100 seconds from midnight, narrowing the margin by 20 seconds amid deteriorating momentum for nuclear arms control and the growing risks of climate change.
This is first time the symbolic clock, based at the University of Chicago and maintained by the magazine Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, has dipped below the two-minute mark, with midnight representing global catastrophe such as nuclear war or irreversible climate crisis.
“National leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war,” the organisation’s Science and Security Board said in a statement.
It also noted the onset of “climate change that could devastate the planet,” criticising the “limited political response” from world leaders despite “one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice.”
On the nuclear proliferation front, the board cited Iran increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium following the US withdrawal from a multilateral deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear development.
The failure of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and Russia and stalled talks over North Korea’s denuclearisation also factored into moving the clock closer to midnight.
Regarding climate change, the board pointed to “major steps backward” as countries such as the United States and Brazil worked to dismantle environmental protections and international climate summits amounted to “little more than a weak nudge” toward curbing emissions.
In 2018, responding to the previous year’s inflammatory rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the group set the clock to two minutes before midnight, matching a record set in 1953 at the height of the Cold War.
The clock’s position was not changed last year, though the scientists warned of the warming climate, proliferation of nuclear weapons and disinformation campaigns undermining the world’s political systems and scientific inquiry.