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Tipping point meaning – in the middle of the climate change debate, it is common to hear about tipping points. These are like limits to a system, such as the ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest. The ecosystem has a peak to how much human influence it can take before it changes to the point of no return. In other words, before it gets pushed over its limit.

Tipping point meaning

The IPCC defines tipping points as “critical thresholds in a system that, when exceeded, can lead to a significant change in the state of a system, often with an understanding that the change is irreversible”.

The tipping point meaning stresses the need of protecting systems before they reach their limit. It is one of the most important parts of climate change mitigation, meaning the work to reduce the impacts of climate change. When a tipping point is reached, scientists also fear harmful chain reactions. Therefore, tipping points are dangerous to life on Earth.

Today, we can still avoid the tipping points of many systems across the world. Recognising and avoiding these limits is essential to stabilise the climate. The IPCC highlights the importance of understanding how sensitive tipping points are. Referring to the limits of physical climate systems, ecosystems and human systems. Understanding tipping points also help to comprehend the risks of different degrees of global warming. Read more below for examples of ecosystems that are close to their limits.

Forests all over the world are close to their tipping point meaning that they risk changing drastically.

Examples of systems at risk

Climate systems, ecosystems and ice sheets are examples of phenomena that have tipping points. Also, ocean and atmosphere circulation have limits to how much influence they can take before they risk being changed permanently. The media highlights the Amazon rainforest and the coral reefs as ecosystems with great risk. If they reach their tipping points, they will most likely begin to die. For example, the Amazon can turn into a savannah. While the coral reefs could disappear completely. As mentioned, the tipping points are associated with different degrees of global warming. A 1.5-degree warming above pre-industrial times risks the life of 70 to 90% of all coral reefs.

Other urgent tipping points are the Greenland ice sheet, permafrost and the Antarctic ice sheets. This means that the phenomena are dangerously close to their limits. The Greenland ice sheet, for instance, is already responsible for the larger part of global sea level rise. Scientists fear that its tipping point could be at 1.5-degree warming. Much like with the coral reefs.

Sources: Earth, IPCC


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