Doomsday Clock now reads three minutes to 'midnight'

Climate change hits the poorest the hardest. They are least able to cope and live in the most vulnerable areas of the world.(Photo: Marcus Perkins/Tearfund)

According to a group of experts that monitor threats to humanity, the world is now closer to armageddon than ever.

The scientists behind the Doomsday Clock, which aims to reflect how close the world is to man-made destruction, have moved the symbolic clock's minute hand two minutes forward, thereby setting the time to three minutes to midnight.

"Unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernisations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity," said the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the group behind the Doomsday Clock.

Though acknowleding that there are some "modestly positive developments" in the way the world deals with climate change, the committee believes that current efforts are still insufficient to counter the 50 per cent rise of greenhouse emissions since 1990 and the billions of investment that go into fossil fuel infrastructure each year.

"The resulting climate change will harm millions of people and will threaten many key ecological systems on which civilisation relies. This threat looms over all of humanity," the Independent quotes committee member Richard Somerville as saying.

What's more, the United States and Russia have both started massive programmes with the aim to modernise their nuclear weapons technologies, which the group says "[undermine] existing nuclear weapons treaties."

"Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a cautious optimism about the ability of nuclear weapon states to keep the nuclear arms race in check and to walk back slowly from the precipice of nuclear destruction," said Sharon Squassoni, another member of the Doomsday Clock committee.

"That optimism has essentially evaporated in the face of two trends: sweeping nuclear weapon modernisation programmes and a disarmament machinery that has ground to a halt," she added.

The Doomsday Clock scientists also cite the failure of world leaders "to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe" as one of the reasons why they changed the time from 11:55pm to 11:57pm.

"The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilisation," the group stated on their website.

The Independent reports that the team behind the 68-year-old concept clock includes 17 Nobel Prize winners, hence lending it strong credibility.

Established in 1947, the clock has now been adjusted 19 times.

According to the clock, the nearest humanity came to an end was in 1953, when the United States and the Soviet Union both tinkered with the hydrogen bomb, "a weapon far more powerful than any atomic bomb." That year, the clock was set two minutes to midnight.

On the other hand, the nearest time humanity came to peace was in 1991. The end of the Cold War led scientists to move back the clock's minute hand to 17 minutes to 12.