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Climate tipping points

January 2020: Increasing evidence is pointing towards Earth reaching climate tipping points. These events could cause cascading domino effects with long-term changes to current ecosystems and human activity.

Information

To date researchers have concluded that reaching irreversible climatic tipping points has low probability, but evidence increasingly suggests that these tipping points may be reached sooner than expected. It strengthens the findings of the 2018 IPCC report, which suggested that tipping points could be exceeded even between 1C and 2C of warming. Generally, researcher consider the following as indicators for having reached tipping points: frequent drought in rainforests, reduction of arctic sea ice and ice sheets, Atlantic circulation slow down, boreal forests changing due to pests and fires, large die-offs of coral reefs, and thawing permafrost.

Implications and opportunities

Reaching climate tipping points would have high impacts across different but interconnected biophysical systems, which could lead to long-term and significant changes for current human activity. It highlights that climate and ecological systems are intricately interwoven and that the collapse of one system may lead to a ‘domino effect’ within the atmosphere, oceans, ice sheets, living organisms, and soils. Researchers are recommending including climate tipping points in economic analysis of climate policies to showcase the high risk for financial assets, economic stability, and current human activities due to global warming. Such inclusion could underline that mitigating climate change may have a lower cost than addressing the consequences of climate change.

Limitations

There are currently no accurate and reliable models that forecast the reaching of tipping points. More data will be needed to provide more exact modelling and the associated consequences at the local and global level.


Sources

Lenton, T., Rockstreom, J., Gaffney, Ow., et.al. (2019). Climate tipping points – too risky to bet against. Nature., November.

National Geographic. (2019). Climate change driving entire planet to dangerous ‘tipping point’. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/11/earth-tipping-point/

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.