Largest ever study on tipping points presented at COP28

A major, international research report is released today at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai: the Global Tipping Points Report. The report shows that crucial tipping points in the Earth’s climate system are getting closer. These tipping points occur when a small change triggers an irreversible transformation. The report constitutes the most comprehensive assessment of tipping points ever. From Utrecht University, several climate scientists contributed.

In addition to issuing warnings, the scientists in the report lay out a blueprint that prescribes how global action can lead us to a sustainable future, by creating positive tipping points in society. "For example, as we cross the tipping point that sees electric vehicles become the dominant form of road transport, battery technology continues to get better and cheaper," Dr. Steve Smith explains. He is a researcher at the University of Exeter that coordinated the report. "This could trigger another positive tipping point in the use of batteries for storing renewable energy, reinforcing another in the use of heat pumps in our homes, and so on."

The following climate researchers from Utrecht University contributed to the report:

Tipping point interactions

Anna von der Heydt , Robbin Bastiaansen , Swinda Falkena en Sacha Sinet  from Utrecht University contributed to the research on climate tipping point interactions and cascades. This shows that we are quickly approaching global warming thresholds where tipping point system interactions become relevant. This means that a substantial change in one will have consequences for subsequently connected tipping systems. A majority of interactions between climate tipping systems are destabilising, although not all of them are known.

Ocean and Atmosphere

Henk Dijkstra of Utrecht University contributed to the chapter on tipping points in ocean and atmospheric circulation. This shows that making an assessment of potential tipping points is difficult. However, there is evidence for tipping points in the overturning circulations in the Atlantic and the Southern ocean, as well as for the West African monsoon.

Global governance

Claudia Wieners of Utrecht University contributed to the study on how governance actors should deal with tipping points in the Earth’s climate system. This shows, among other things, that existing global governance institutions do not address the specific risks posed by tipping points. The most effective measure against the occurrence of tipping points is, by far, a rapid phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions, the report shows. However, now is the time for governance actors, including UN bodies, international organisations, national governments and non-state actors, to set the agenda for the governance of Earth system tipping points, the scientists conclude.