Planet’s Climate Crisis Reaching “Point Of No Return”

"We argue that the intervention time left to prevent tipping could already have shrunk towards zero, whereas the reaction time to achieve net zero emissions is 30 years at best," the authors said.

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The Earth is heading toward a “global tipping point” if the climate crisis continues on its current path, scientists have warned, as they called for urgent action to avoid “an existential threat to civilization.”

The group of researchers, who published a commentary in the journal Nature, say there is growing evidence to suggest that irreversible changes to the Earth’s environmental systems are already taking place, and that we are now in a “state of planetary emergency.”

A global tipping point is a threshold when the planet’s systems go beyond the point of no return — such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest, accelerated melting of ice sheets, and thawing of permafrost — the authors of the commentary say.

Active problem areas

Amazon Wildfires
Amazon Wildfires

Led by Timothy Lenton, professor of climate change and Earth system science at the University of Exeter, in southwest England, the team identified nine areas where they say tipping points are already underway.

Those include widespread destruction of the Amazon, reduction of Arctic sea ice, large-scale coral reef die-offs, melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, thawing of permafrost, destabilizing of boreal forests — which contain vast numbers of trees that grow in freezing northern climes — and a slowdown of ocean circulation.

The team claims that these events are interconnected and change in one will impact another, causing a worsening “cascade” of crises.

The researchers said early results from preliminary models suggest the climate is much more sensitive than first thought and that a global tipping point is possible.

Emissions, global warming

Arctic Global Warming
For example, the Arctic is warming at least twice as quickly as the global average. Melting Arctic sea ice is driving warming further because less heat is reflected off the planet.

The idea of a climate tipping point is not new. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) introduced the concept 20 years ago.

Back then, the UN suggested such “large-scale discontinuities”would only come about when global warming exceeded 5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Global average temperatures are today around 1 C higher than in the pre-industrial age and continue to rise.

The authors acknowledge that there are limits to their understanding of climate tipping, and further investigation is needed. But they say the possible impact could be so huge and “irreversible” that “to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option.”

In other words, not acting is “too risky to bet against” in their view.

And time is of the essence.

While the 2015 Paris Agreement set a goal to limit the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, a UN report this month said that pledges countries made to limit the climate crisis are nowhere near enough to stave off record-high temperatures.

Greenhouse gases reached a record high in 2018 with no sign of peaking, according to a recent World Meteorological Organization report. Carbon dioxide levels reached 407.8 parts per million, a unit used to measure the level of a contaminant in the air.

Hope is not lost, however. Researchers say that mitigating greenhouse gas emissions could still slow down the accumulation of these climate impacts.

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