Pivotal moment for humanity as tipping points in Earth systems and society accelerate

News - 06 December 2023 - Webredactie

Today for the first time the Global Tipping Points Report (GTPR) presents an overview of the scientific knowledge to date on the negative and positive tipping points in Earth systems and in society. The report says current global governance is inadequate for the scale of the challenge of accelerating tipping points and makes six key recommendations to change course fast, including coordinated action to trigger positive tipping points. The report is the result of an unprecedented effort of nearly 200 scientists worldwide working on the topic. TPM professor Tatiana Filatova is one of the contributors to the GTPR.

Ecologists and climate scientists have long noticed that ecological, climate, and, in general, Earth systems trajectories are often non-linear, exhibiting a phenomenon known as ‘tipping points’. A tipping point occurs when a small change sparks an often rapid and irreversible transformation of the entire system, with a domino effect. Think of e.g. an increase in CO2 emissions causing a gradual change in Earth’s temperature. When a critical threshold is reached some additional volume of emissions could irreversibly damage certain systems, leading for example, to the Greenland ice sheet collapse or the dieback of Amazon rainforest. It has been also realized that social systems could also pass a tipping point. Social tipping points are also critical for climate action, with positive social tipping, like shifting social norms or financial rules, argued to have the potential to accelerate climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Understanding social tipping points
Understanding social tipping points and the cause-effect mechanisms that lead to them, becomes increasingly vital in our interconnected world, and could help avoid political instability, financial collapse (like the 2008 crisis), or technological lock-ins of global scale (like fossil fuel-based economic growth) that pose an existential threat to our planet as we know it, and our civilization. Filatova contributed to the topic of ‘Tipping cascades’ which focuses specifically on social contagion processes that lead to both negative and positive outcomes regarding climate change.

Read the press release of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute.