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The United Nations warns about environmental tipping points 

The United Nations warns about environmental tipping points 

Melt Ponds in the US Arctic. Photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / PDTillman, Public Domain, via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

Nearly a month out from the crucial COP28 climate summit, United Nations (UN) climate scientists have warned.

The world is rapidly heading towards a cascade of environmental ‘tipping points’ which, if they were to materialise, could cause irreversible damage to water supplies as well as other life-sustaining systems, researchers at the UN warned this week. 

Driven by climate change and overconsumption have been key contributing factor that has put the world on the brink of six interconnected tipping points. The UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) stated: “This could trigger abrupt changes in our life-sustaining systems and shake the foundation of societies.”

The research was published in the UN’s Interconnected Disaster Risks report ahead of the annual UN climate talks COP28 held in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates which begins on the 30th of November.

System failure

The lead author of the report Jack O’Connor, a UNU-EHS researcher said: “Once these thresholds are passed, the system fails to function as it normally would, and you get new risks cascading out, and these new risks can transfer to other systems. We should be expecting these things to happen because in certain areas they are happening already”.

In addition, the report also warns that one million plants and animals could be wiped out within decades and the subsequent loss could lead to cascading extensions of dependent species and move the world closer to ecosystem collapse. 

Across the world, many of the largest aquifers are already depleting faster than they can be replenished.

And extreme heat and drought are depleting water sources as glaciers around the world are rapidly shrinking or completely disappearing.

The research on tipping points conducted by UNU-EHS squares up with the recent report by Prof Johan Rockström and his colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany on the escalating risks of tipping points. Rockström is considered the world’s leading expert on planetary boundaries

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