Russia-Ukraine war pushes ‘doomsday clock’ to worst time ever: 90 seconds to midnight

Symbolic timepiece signals bio-threats, nuclear proliferation and climate crisis bringing humanity closer to annihilation

The doomsday clock for 2023 has been reset to 90 seconds before midnight, largely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and increased risk of nuclear escalation.

The clock, a symbolic timepiece showing how close the world is to ending, has been moved forward by 10 seconds by its keepers. 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 new clock time was also influenced by continuing threats posed by the climate crisis and breakdown of global norms. Institutions need to mitigate risks associated with advancing disruptive technologies and biological threats such as Covid-19, its panel of experts have warned.

Dr Rachel Bronson, president of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: “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.”


“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 to turn back the clock,” she added.

The clock’s time is set by the Bulletin’s science and security board with advice also provided by 10 Nobel Laureates. The Bulletin is an independent non-profit organisation run by some of the world’s most eminent scientists.

For 2022, the clock was set at just 100 seconds to midnight, matching the time for 2021 and 2020 – previously the closest point to human extinction at which the clock was set. While it is a metaphor for how close humanity is to self-annihilation, it also serves as a call-to-action to reverse the hands, which have been moved backwards before.

“Russia’s war on Ukraine has raised profound questions about how states interact, eroding norms of international conduct that underpin successful responses to a variety of global risks,” according to the 2023 statement.

“Worst of all, 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,” said board member and security specialist Dr Steve Fetter. The statement has been translated into Ukrainian and Russian for the first time.

“Even if nuclear use is avoided in Ukraine, the war has challenged the nuclear order – the system of agreements and understandings that have been constructed over six decades to limit the dangers of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“The doomsday clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity. We are on the brink of a precipice. But our leaders are not acting at sufficient speed or scale to secure a peaceful and liveable planet,” said chair of the Elders global leaders group Mary Robinson.

Speaking at a live-streamed unveiling event in Washington, she added: “From cutting carbon emissions to strengthening arms control treaties and investing in pandemic preparedness, we know what needs to be done. The science is clear, but the political will is lacking. This must change in 2023 if we are to avert catastrophe. We are facing multiple, existential crises. Leaders need a crisis mindset.”

Dr Sivan Kartha of Stockholm Environmental Institute said dealing with the worsening climate crisis required faith in institutions of multilateral governance and co-operation. “The geopolitical fissure opened by the invasion of Ukraine has weakened trust among countries and the global will to co-operate,” he claimed.

In spite of the increased threat to humanity, the year was marked by tremendous expansion and innovation in renewable energy, he said, with renewables set to be the dominant energy source within five years. The “seriousness” of the upcoming generation in wanting to resolve the climate crisis was also “something we can take heart in”.

Board member Dr Suzet McKinney said: “Devastating events like the Covid-19 pandemic can no longer be considered rare, once-a-century occurrences. However, disease-induced disaster can be avoided if countries around the world co-operate on global health strategies.”

The world’s ability to predict the threat from zoonotic diseases – viruses and bacteria infecting humans from animal sources – “is woefully inadequate”, she noted. Compounding matters was a heightened risk of laboratory accidents with poor governmental regulation, and proliferation of programmes in North Korea and Iran with the ability to develop biological weapons.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times