Home / Issues and Investigations / Earth On Verge Of Five Catastrophic Climate Tipping Points, Scientists Warn
OIP (3)

Earth On Verge Of Five Catastrophic Climate Tipping Points, Scientists Warn

Many of the gravest threats to humanity are drawing closer, as carbon pollution heats the planet to ever more dangerous levels, scientists have warned.

Five important natural thresholds already risk being crossed, according to the Global Tipping Points report, and three more may be reached in the 2030s if the world heats 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial temperatures.

Triggering these planetary shifts will not cause temperatures to spiral out of control in the coming centuries but will unleash dangerous and sweeping damage to people and nature that cannot be undone.

“Tipping points in the Earth system pose threats of a magnitude never faced by humanity,” said Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute. “They can trigger devastating domino effects, including the loss of whole ecosystems and capacity to grow staple crops, with societal impacts including mass displacement, political instability and financial collapse.”

The tipping points at risk include the collapse of big ice sheets in Greenland and the West Antarctic, the widespread thawing of permafrost, the death of coral reefs in warm waters, and the collapse of one oceanic current in the North Atlantic.

Unlike other changes to the climate such as hotter heatwaves and heavier rainfall, these systems do not slowly shift in line with greenhouse gas emissions but can instead flip from one state to an entirely different one. When a climatic system tips – sometimes with a sudden shock – it may permanently alter the way the planet works.

Scientists warn that there are large uncertainties around when such systems will shift but the report found that three more may soon join the list. These include mangroves and seagrass meadows, which are expected to die off in some regions if the temperatures rise between 1.5C and 2C, and boreal forests, which may tip as early as 1.4C of heating or as late as 5C.

The warning comes as world leaders meet for the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai. On Tuesday, Climate Action Tracker estimated that their emissions targets for 2030 put the planet on track to heat 2.5C by the end of the century, despite promises from countries at a previous summit to try to limit it to 1.5C.

The tipping point report, produced by an international team of 200 researchers and funded by Bezos Earth Fund, is the latest in a series of warnings about the most extreme effects of climate change.

Scientists have warned that some of the shifts can create feedback loops that heat the planet further or alter weather patterns in a way that triggers other tipping points.

The researchers said the systems were so tightly linked they could not rule out “tipping cascades”. If the Greenland ice sheet disintegrates, for instance, it could lead to an abrupt shift in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, an important current that delivers most of the heat to the gulf stream. That, in turn, can intensify the El Niño southern oscillation, one of the most powerful weather patterns on the planet. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *