Giant ice sheets, ocean currents and permafrost regions may have already degraded irreversibly. Other crucial climate systems like the Amazon might be lost forever if the world does not restrict its emissions fast
The Earth has 16 climate systems essential for its sustenance. These are dubbed ‘tipping elements’ and have certain temperature thresholds, or tipping points, beyond which even a slight change will cause irreparable damage and lead to catastrophic consequences.
Once the tipping points are breached, the elements will collapse, even if the temperature rise is arrested then and there.
Scientists who first identified and assessed the tipping points in 2008 have recently reassessed them and found that five of the elements are already very close to their tipping points when the world is 1.1°C warmer than the pre-industrial period, and most others will breach the levels as the planet grows warmer.
If the world fails to restrict warming to 1.5°C , as agreed under the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, then four of the five tipping points of the elements will move from the realm of possibility to likely events, and five others will become possible, increasing risks for populations around the world.
The risks of crossing the tipping points steadily increase after this point, with the highest being beyond 2°C of warming.
“Many tipping elements in the Earth system are interlinked, making cascading tipping points a serious additional concern. In fact, interactions can lower the critical temperature thresholds beyond which individual tipping elements begin destabilising in the long run,” said Ricarda Winkelmann, co-author of the study released on September 9.
“Our new work provides compelling evidence that the world must radically accelerate decarbonising the economy to limit the risk of crossing climate tipping points,” said Timothy Lenton, co-author of the study.
To achieve that, the world now needs to trigger positive social tipping points that accelerate the transformation to a clean energy future.
“We may also have to adapt to cope with climate tipping points that we fail to avoid and support those who could suffer uninsurable losses and damages,” he added.
This was first published in the 1-15 October, 2022 edition of Down To Earth
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.