Multiple Climate Tipping Points Likely to Be Triggered by 1.5 ºC of Global Warming, Researchers Warn

New research indicates that the melting of sea ice, thawing of permafrost and changing of ocean current would be accelerated.

Sep. 12, 2022
By Paolo DeAndreis

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New research indi­cates that the world is on the brink of five dis­as­trous” cli­mate tip­ping points as global tem­per­a­tures have exceeded the pre-indus­trial aver­age by 1.1 ºC.

Climate tip­ping points are con­di­tions beyond which changes in a part of the cli­mate sys­tem become self-per­pet­u­at­ing,” the researchers wrote in the study pub­lished in Science, which assessed more than 200 pre­vi­ous stud­ies.

These changes may lead to abrupt, irre­versible and dan­ger­ous impacts with seri­ous impli­ca­tions for human­ity,” they added.

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Among the five tip­ping points passed as global tem­per­a­tures reached the 1.1 ºC mark are ice sheet col­lapses in Greenland and West Antarctica, changes in a sig­nif­i­cant north Atlantic ocean cur­rent, bio­di­ver­sity loss in trop­i­cal coral reefs and abrupt per­mafrost loss.

The researchers said these events would have pro­found impacts on the cli­mate. Loss of ice mass at the poles is expected to result in sig­nif­i­cant sea level rise, while changes to the Labrador cur­rent will pro­foundly alter Europe’s cli­mate. The thaw­ing of per­mafrost is also expected to release tons of car­bon into the atmos­phere.

As tem­per­a­tures reach the 1.5 ºC thresh­old, the min­i­mum rise now expected, researchers indi­cated that four of those five tip­ping points would move from pos­si­ble” to likely,” while five new tip­ping points would become pos­si­ble. These include moun­tain glac­ier loss and the migra­tion of forests far­ther north.

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This pro­vides really strong sci­en­tific sup­port for rapid cut­ting of emis­sions in line with the 1.5 °C goal,” David Armstrong McKay, a cli­mate researcher at the University of Exeter and lead author of the study, told New Scientist.

But the closer you get to 2°C, the more likely some of these tip­ping points get,” he added. Where we’re head­ing at the moment is some­thing like 2.6°C – that’s def­i­nitely going to hit lots of tip­ping points.”

At the 2 ºC thresh­old, the researchers warned that a fur­ther six tip­ping points would also become more likely.

They con­cluded that the study pro­vided more evi­dence for urgent action to mit­i­gate cli­mate change, adding that fur­ther stud­ies would need to be done to delve more deeply into each tip­ping point.

The world is head­ing towards 2 ºC to 3 ºC of global warm­ing,” Johan Rockström, direc­tor of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a co-author of the study, told The Guardian.

This sets Earth on course to cross mul­ti­ple dan­ger­ous tip­ping points that will be dis­as­trous for peo­ple across the world,” he con­cluded. To main­tain live­able con­di­tions on Earth and enable sta­ble soci­eties, we must do every­thing pos­si­ble to pre­vent cross­ing tip­ping points.”



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