Small alterations can cause large-scale, irreversible changes and, in the case of the climate, this can cause a dramatic shift to an entire climate system. Scientific evidence suggests that irreversible changes in the Earth’s climate systems are underway, meaning we are in a state of planetary emergency. Scientists commonly refer to ‘tipping points’ in this context which can be defined as the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place. Individual tipping points can fundamentally disrupt the entire global climate system.
So, now we know how important they are, what are the key tipping points that could push the Earth’s climate system into abrupt or irreversible change? The Carbon Brief have published a visual representation of nine tipping points relating to climate change. These include:
|Amazon Rainforest dieback||Deforestation and hotter, drier conditions causing dieback of the rainforest and a shift towards savannah|
|West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration||Collapse of the ice sheet triggered by persistent grounding-line retreat in one sector, cascading to other sectors|
|West African monsoon shift||An abrupt change to Sahel rainfall, caused by a shift northwards (wetter) or southwards (drier) in the West African monsoon|
|Indian monsoon shift||A strengthening of the monsoon caused by rising CO2 emissions or a weakening as a result of high aerosol emissions|
|Coral reef die-off||Rising temperatures pushing warm water corals beyond tolerable levels of thermal stress into an alternative state dominated by macroalgae|
|Greenland ice sheet disintegration||Irreversible retreat of the ice sheet caused by rising temperatures|
|Permafrost loss||Abrupt increase in emissions of CO2 and methane through the thawing of frozen carbon-rich soils|
|Atlantic meridional overturning circulation breakdown||Shutdown of the AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) caused by an increased influx of freshwater into the North Atlantic|
|Boreal forest shift||A shift in boreal forests, seeing expansion into tundra to the north and dieback to the South|
This is not an exhaustive list of Earth systems that have the potential to display tipping point behaviour, but it demonstrates the scale and severity of the potential course we are on. At CO2balance, we are working towards reducing carbon emissions across the globe and are part of the efforts to avoid reaching catastrophic tipping points relating to climate change. Find out more about our carbon reduction projects here.