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Climate Tipping Points


Climate Tipping Points or CTPs: About

  • Climate Tipping Points are large-scale systems on Earth which are essential for sustenance of Earth.
    • Climate Tipping Points are markers of a larger climate system which when triggered beyond a threshold, perpetuate warming on its own.
  • There are certain thresholds of these elements known as ‘climate tipping points’, beyond which even a slight change in them can become unstoppable, leading to catastrophic consequences.
    • The change may be rather abrupt in the case of ecosystems and atmospheric phenomena, creating wide scale cascading changes in weather systems, impacting human lives along with animal and plant species.
  • Example: Some Climate Tipping Points triggers include substantial sea level rise from melting ice sheets, shrinking of Amazon rainforest or corals and warming from carbon release due to melting of permafrost.
Climate Tipping Elements
Climate Tipping Elements


Climate Tipping Points: Highlight of the Study

  • Human emissions have already pushed the Climate Tipping Points to dangerous levels.
  • According to Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rise of 2 °C from pre-industrial levels can trigger the Climate Tipping Points and become irreversible at 2.5-4 °C.
    • Even the current 1 °C rise from pre-industrial levels has triggered some Climate Tipping Points which are now unavoidable.
  • Increase in probable number of Climate Tipping Point elements from nine to 16
    • Of the 16, nine as ‘core tipping elements’ affecting the climate of the Earth in general.
    • Seven were categorized as ‘regional tipping elements’ that had an impact on the climate of various regions but could also interact with climate elements from other regions, creating cascading impacts and crossing of Climate Tipping Points.
    • The Amazon rainforest is an example of a core tipping element while the west African monsoon is considered to be a regional tipping element.
  • Many climate tipping elements in the Earth system are interlinked, making cascading tipping points a serious additional concern.


Climate Tipping Points: Concern of Breaching Tipping Point

  • UN’s Paris Agreement to limit warming at 1.5-2 °C will not be able to avoid the disastrous effects of climate change and will likely trigger some Climate Tipping Points.
    • Even if all the current climate pledges are met and the temperature rise be kept below 2°C, even then, there is a risk of at least 10 climate elements tipping over. Six of these are likely and four are possible.
  • A major Climate Tipping Points would be if ocean convection in the Labrador and Irminger Seas in the North Atlantic were to collapse (likely beyond 1.8 °C), which would cause major regional cooling, drive weather extremes in Europe and North America, and also shift subtropical monsoon patterns to new positions, especially in West Africa.
  • In case of 4 °C rise, the wider Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation will collapse which would severely disrupt monsoon systems around the world.
    • Significant changes around the Arctic, as declining sea ice and abrupt shifts in the boreal forest position amplify Arctic warming and create very different weather patterns
  • The collapse of the ice sheets can lead to sea level rise, in turn, leading to gradual subsidence and submergence of many small island countries.
    • It could trigger decline of large and complex ecosystems such as coral reefs, which could lead to unfathomable losses to biodiversity.
    • Sensitive coral reefs have “immediate impacts of human livelihoods”. Poorer sections of the society, especially those who make a living from fishing will be drastically affected.
  • Thawing of permafrost leads to release of carbon into the atmosphere, mainly in the form of methane gas.
Climate Tipping Points
Climate Tipping Points


Climate Tipping Points: Steps Taken and Way Forward

  • Increasing climate action around the world to make recent net-zero promises a reality.
  • Making greenhouse gas emissions peak and fall: To avoid triggering multiple climate tipping points and limit future climate damages.
  • Accelerate decarbonising the economy to limit the risk of crossing Climate Tipping Points.
  • Need to trigger positive social tipping points that accelerate the transformation to a clean energy future.


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