Climate “Tipping Points” Need Not Be the End of the World – Disastrous Consequences Could Be Averted

Climate Change Concept Illustration

Swiftly reversing global warming may prevent the dire consequences of climate “tipping points,” challenging the belief that once triggered, these thresholds are irreversible

The disastrous consequences of climate “tipping points” could be averted if global warming was reversed quickly enough, new research suggests.

Once triggered, tipping points may lead to abrupt changes such as the dieback of the Amazon rainforest or melting of major ice sheets.

Until now, crossing these thresholds has been assumed to be a point of no return, but the new study — published in the journal Nature — concludes that thresholds could be “temporarily exceeded” without prompting permanent shifts.

The research team, from the University of Exeter and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), say the time available to act would depend on the level of global warming and the timescale involved in each tipping point.

“The more extreme the warming, the less time we would have to prevent tipping points,” said lead author Dr. Paul Ritchie, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute and the Department of Mathematics.

“This is especially true for fast-onset tipping points like Amazon forest dieback and disruption to monsoons, where irreversible change could take place in a matter of decades.

“Slow-onset tipping points take place over a timescale of many centuries and — depending on the level of warming — this would give us more time to act.”

Joe Clarke, also of the University of Exeter, said: “Fortunately, the tipping points that are believed to be closest are slow-onset tipping points. This may give us a lifeline to avoid dangerous climate change.”

Concerns about tipping points like Greenland ice sheet melt are one of the reasons for the Paris Agreement targets to keep global warming below 1.5°C (2.7°F).

“However, current rates of warming make it almost inevitable that we will exceed that level,” said Professor Peter Cox.

Dr. Ritchie added: “It is widely assumed that this means we are now committed to suffering these tipping events. “We show that this conventional wisdom may be flawed, especially for slow-onset tipping elements such as a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or the melting of ice sheets.”

The “time to act” was calculated as the time taken to reverse warming and stabilize at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“Ideally, we will not cross tipping point thresholds, but this gives hope we may be able to pull back from danger if needed,” said Dr. Chris Huntingford of UKCEH.

Reference: “Overshooting tipping point thresholds in a changing climate” by Paul D. L. Ritchie, Joseph J. Clarke, Peter M. Cox and Chris Huntingford, 21 April 2021, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03263-2

3 Comments on "Climate “Tipping Points” Need Not Be the End of the World – Disastrous Consequences Could Be Averted"

  1. Clyde Spencer | April 21, 2021 at 9:22 pm | Reply

    It is illogical to call something a Tipping Point, and claim that recovery is possible. It simply isn’t a true Tipping Point unless recovery is impossible.

    Unfortunately, pejorative words such as “ocean acidification, climate emergency, and tipping point” have been promoted to induce fear and discourage objective analysis. It looks like someone is now backpedaling, perhaps out of concern that people will give up if they feel helpless.

  2. This is a test

  3. Gerald Brennan | April 22, 2021 at 3:58 am | Reply

    When all this is shown to be nonsense, will you retract these inane posts?

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