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Averting a climate disaster is also an NPT obligation

May 6, 2015

A nuclear war using only 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs against modern cities would cause prolonged global climate change and create an ozone hole encircling the entire Earth, according to data presented by Rutgers professor Alan Robock at an NPT side event sponsored by IPPNW on April 28. “Nuclear famine and the ban treaty: how prohibiting and eliminating nuclear weapons can prevent a climate disaster” examined the scientific and medical evidence supporting the conclusion that the number of nuclear weapons in the world must be reduced to zero without delay.

Robock explained that three independent computer simulations had arrived at the same result: five million tons of smoke and soot produced by firestorms and injected into the upper atmosphere would block sunlight over much of the northern hemisphere for a decade or more. Temperatures would plummet, rainfall would decrease, UV-blocking ozone would be destroyed, and crops would fail in major agricultural regions.

Lily Xia, a post doctoral graduate student working with Robock, presented data showing that nuclear-war-induced climate change would reduce harvests of rice, maize, and winter wheat in China by 20-40% during the first five years.

IPPNW co-president Ira Helfand said that an impact on agriculture of this magnitude would lead to food shortages placing at least two billion people—almost a third of the world’s population—at risk of starvation. Most of the victims, he added, would be in countries far removed from the nuclear conflict itself, though the collapse of agricultural and trade systems would affect everyone.

Robock noted that the scientific case for nuclear winter—first developed during the Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union—had been strengthened by these new studies. Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan, he said, had been so influenced by the evidence for nuclear winter that they both came to the conclusion that nuclear weapons must be eliminated.

Both Robock and Helfand said that the only responsible policy in the face of this evidence is to fill the legal gap identified in the Austrian Pledge and to prohibit and eliminate all nuclear weapons in compliance with Article VI of the NPT.

Professor Robock maintains a website of relevant climate studies. IPPNW’s report Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk?— Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition is also available online.

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