World is closest it's ever been to global apocalypse as Doomsday Clock now 90 seconds to midnight

The Doomsday Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight. Credit: The Bulletin

The Doomsday Clock has been set to 90 seconds to midnight, making it the closest the world has ever been to a global catastrophe.

The announcement means the perceived threat is now more severe than it was last year, with the scientists citing “unprecedented danger” posed by the Russia-Ukraine war.

The clock is a visual representation of how close the world is to destruction from nuclear weapons, climate change and disruptive technology.

Scientists also warned of global pandemics becoming more common, bringing with it a risk to the human population.

ITV News takes a look at what this year's announcement means.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

The Doomsday Clock is a metaphor - a reminder of the perils humanity must address if we are to survive on the planet.

The clock indicates how much time remains until midnight on theoretical doomsday.

The countdown was established in 1947 by experts at the Bulletin who were working on the Manhattan Project to design and build the first atomic bomb.

The Bulletin is an independent non-profit organisation run by some of the world’s most eminent scientists, which was originally intended to warn of the threat of nuclear armageddon.

Doomsday Clock moves 10 seconds closer to midnight. Credit: The Bulletin

What does the 2023 announcement mean?

When the clock first moved to 100 seconds to midnight in 2019 it was already the closest to midnight it had ever been before. It marked the first time the clock had been set in seconds, a reflection of the increasing danger.

Tuesday's announcement means the clock is officially the closest to midnight that it has ever been.

The main areas of concern raised by the scientists - in a statement published in English, Ukrainian and Russian for the first time ever - include:

  • Tensions with Russia

The scientists said that following President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Russia's "thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons remind the world that escalation of the conflict - by accident, intention or miscalculation - is a terrible risk."

Rachel Bronson, chief executive of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “The US government, its Nato allies and Ukraine have a multitude of channels for dialogue. We urge leaders to explore all of them to their fullest ability.”

The scientists pointed out that the last remaining nuclear weapons treaty between Russia and the United States is "in jeopardy".

They said: "Unless the two parties resume negotiations and find a basis for further reductions, the treaty will expire in February 2026.

"This would eliminate mutual inspections, deepen mistrust, spur a nuclear arms race, and heighten the possibility of a nuclear exchange."

  • Nuclear weapons

Alongside the nuclear threat from Russia, the scientists warned that China's considerable expansion of its nuclear capabilities should be seen as "particularly troubling".

North Korea is said to have tested its highest ever number of intermediate and longer-range missiles in 2020.

Meanwhile, Iran's increasing capacity for the enrichment of uranium and India's development of its own arsenal were also reasons to be concerned.

Ms Bronson said: “As UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned this past August, the world has entered a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.”

  • Global warming

Other influences on the decision to move the clock forward include the climate crisis and carbon dioxide emissions - which the scientists say is still a danger to humanity.

  • Covid-19 and disinformation

Factors also included the increasing number of bio-threats like Covid-19, paired with the spread of disinformation and disruptive technologies.

Ms Bronson added: "We are living in a time of unprecedented danger, and the Doomsday Clock time reflects that reality.

"90 seconds to midnight is the closest the Clock has ever been set to midnight, and it's a decision our experts do not take lightly."

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Doomsday Clock timeline

Here are some of the times in the Doomsday Clock's history.

1947: The symbolic Doomsday Clock is unveiled

At its launch, the Doomsday Clock was set at seven minutes before midnight, which was a visual, not geopolitical, choice. Only the hours in the last quarter before midnight are identified on the face.

1962: Cuban Missile Crisis

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Doomsday Clock stood still at seven minutes to midnight. This was despite many analysts warning this moment was the closest the Cold War face-off between America and the USSR came to nuclear war.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has been quoted as saying: "The answers to this seeming anomaly are that the Doomsday Clock captures trends and takes into account the capacity of leaders and societies to respond to crises with reasoned actions to prevent nuclear holocaust. "The Cuban Missile Crisis, for all its potential and ultimate destruction, only lasted a few weeks; however, the lessons were quickly apparent when the United States and the Soviet Union installed the first hotline between the two capitals to improve communications, and, of course, negotiated the 1963 test ban treaty, ending all atmospheric nuclear testing."

1991: Furthest the clock was from midnight

The furthest the clock has ever been from midnight was 17 minutes in 1991, after then-President George H. W. Bush and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev both announced reductions in the nuclear arsenals of their respective countries.

2007: Climate change officially added to threats

The bulletin officially began to consider climate change alongside nuclear threats in setting the clock.

In 2015, the clock was moved from five minutes to three minutes to midnight amid growing fears around environmental destruction and nuclear proliferation. At this time, the clock was the closest it had been to midnight for more than 20 years.

2019: The Doomsday Clock officially relocates to the Bulletin offices at the University of Chicago.

2023: Current state of apocalypse as estimated by the clock

Previously at 100 seconds to midnight, the clock was then the closest it had ever been to midnight. It was set there in 2020 and has remained static until January 2023.

Russia's war in Ukraine - which has sparked renewed fears about the use of nuclear weapons - reflected this year's setting.

It now stands at 90 seconds to midnight.

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