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Some ‘climate tipping points’ may have been already reached

Based on the magnitude of this year’s extreme weather events, scientists are seeing links between heatwaves and climate change.

With more than a month still to go in Siberia's annual fire season, more than 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of Yakutia's swampy coniferous taiga has already been lost. — Photo: © AFP
With more than a month still to go in Siberia's annual fire season, more than 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of Yakutia's swampy coniferous taiga has already been lost. — Photo: © AFP

Based on the magnitude of many of this year’s extreme weather events, scientists are seeing many links between heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires, and climate change. 

The scale of these events has dramatically upended previous records, scientists say, suggesting our climate is no longer changing in a gradual, predictable way.

According to CBC Canada News, these extreme events are putting renewed attention on climate tipping points – a critical threshold at which global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state.

Satellite data helped indigenous Peruvians save rainforest: study
View of logs stacked to be cut at a sawmill near Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata Province, Madre de Dios region, in the Amazon rainforest of southeastern Peru – Copyright AFP WAKIL KOHSAR

“Tipping points are large-scale changes that could happen abruptly and could be potentially irreversible,” said Owen Gaffney, an analyst at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, a research institute.

A new study, that tracks the Earth’s vital signs was published in the journal BioScience on July 28. In the study, scientists found that many key indicators of the global climate crisis are getting worse and either approaching or exceeding key tipping points.

Actually, 16 out of 31 tracked vital signs – including greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content, glacier thickness, sea-ice extent, deforestation, and ice mass – set worrying new records, reports The Guardian.

Glacier melt is speeding up, raising seas: global study
Copyright AFP Lillian SUWANRUMPHA – Glaciers — large sprawls of frozen water — have been melting fast since the mid 20th Century

“There is growing evidence we are getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system,” said William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University who co-authored the new research, in a statement.

“The updated planetary vital signs we present largely reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual,” said Ripple, adding that “a major lesson from Covid-19 is that even colossally decreased transportation and consumption are not nearly enough and that, instead, transformational system changes are required.”

For example, despite a dip in pollution linked to the coronavirus pandemic, levels of atmospheric CO2 and methane hit all-time highs in 2021.

In April 2021, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million, the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded. Today, it is 418.94 ppm.

UK carbon market targets emissions post-Brexit
Britain targets zero net carbon emissions by 2050 to help meet commitments under the Paris accord – Copyright AFP/File CARL DE SOUZA

The five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015, and 2020 was the second hottest year in history.

The rate of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon increased in both 2019 and 2020, reaching a 12-year high of 1.11 million hectares deforested in 2020.

Despite the bad news, there were at least a few bright spots in the study, including fossil fuel subsidies reaching a record low and fossil fuel divestment reaching a record high.

Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) plant site in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada

But it still means that in order to change or at least halt the course of this climate emergency, the authors write that profound alterations need to happen, including the phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels, and the development of global strategic climate reserves to protect and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity. 

“Policies to alleviate the climate crisis or any of the other threatened planetary boundary transgressions should not be focused on symptom relief but on addressing their root cause: the overexploitation of the Earth,” the report says. Only by taking on this core issue, the authors write, will people be able to “ensure the long-term sustainability of human civilization and give future generations the opportunity to thrive.”

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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