INSIGHT by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

Tipping points pose some of the biggest risks to our planet’s life-support systems and the stability of our societies. In an unprecedented effort by the scientific community, at COP28 researchers launched a comprehensive report on Earth system tipping points and their potential impacts and opportunities for societal change. More than 200 scientists from around the world contributed to the ‘Global Tipping Points Report’. The report with more than 500 pages provides an authoritative guide to the state of knowledge on tipping points, explores opportunities for accelerating much needed transformations, and outlines options for a new governance of tipping point risks and opportunities.

“This report is the most comprehensive review to date on tipping points in the Earth System,” explains Sina Loriani of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), one of the report’s lead authors. “Crossing these thresholds may trigger fundamental and sometimes abrupt changes that could irreversibly determine the fate of essential parts of our Earth system for the coming hundreds or thousands of years. These tipping point risks are potentially disastrous, and should be taken very seriously from a precautionary perspective on current and future generations, despite the remaining uncertainties.”

| 5 tipping systems currently at risk, 3 more at risk with global warming breaching 1.5°C

Five major tipping systems are already at risk of crossing tipping points at the current levels of global warming, the researchers find in the report: The Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets, the North Atlantic subpolar gyre circulation, warm-water coral reefs and some permafrost regions. Boreal forests, mangroves and seagrass meadows are three additional systems that could be at risk of tipping in the 2030s with global warming now on course to breach 1.5°C global warming.

In the report, information on tipping systems and their associated tipping point temperature thresholds has been synthesised from studies on climate changes in Earth’s history, present-day Earth observations and computer simulations. The report points out that more systematic assessments, such as the Tipping Point Modelling Intercomparison Project (TIPMIP) led by PIK, are needed to provide more accurate insights on tipping points and their associated uncertainties in the future.


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“Our in-depth analysis confirms the consistency of previous research and clearly shows that current climate change and loss of nature could cause fundamental changes in key elements of the Earth system, with far-reaching impacts for billions of people around the world,” says one of the report’s lead authors Jonathan Donges of PIK. “These impacts include accelerated sea-level rise, changing weather patterns and reduced agricultural yields, with the potential to trigger negative social tipping points leading to violent conflict or the collapse of political institutions. Tipping elements are also not separate entities, they are closely linked: Triggering one tipping point in the Earth system or in human societies could in turn destabilise another tipping system, making tipping cascades possible.”


| More than 200 researchers from across the world involved in the 500-page report

Led by the University of Exeter, more than 200 researchers from a range of institutions reviewed the available evidence of Earth system changes for the Global Tipping Points report. The authors argue that positive tipping points are critical to achieving transformative change for stabilising the Earth system to avoid dangerous impacts of Earth system tipping points. Making use of the insights gained into tipping dynamics and applying them to society, desirable changes can become self-reinforcing under the right conditions.  Much of the report therefore highlights the potential for abrupt social and technological change, with such nonlinear change being already evident today in renewable energy and electric vehicle markets. The report outlines several options to accelerate transformational change, for example phasing out fossil fuels and reduce land-use emissions. Other possible measures include coordinated efforts to trigger positive societal tipping points across multiple sectors such as energy, transport or food and deepening knowledge of tipping points in an IPCC Special Report.


“The world is no longer in the realm of incremental and linear change,” concludes PIK Director Johan Rockström. “Instead, we need to trigger exponential change across sectors and geographies by phasing out fossil fuels while taking advantage of positive social and economic tipping points. The incentives, solutions or levers of change need to shift so fundamentally that societies move onto a new sustainable trajectory. The Global Tipping Points report provides a comprehensive guide, the first of its kind, to the threats and opportunities that lie ahead.”


Explore the report

The Global Tipping Points Report 2023


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The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) is one of the leading research institutions addressing relevant questions in the fields of global change, climate impacts and sustainable development. Natural and social scientists work closely together to generate interdisciplinary insights that provide a sound basis for decision-making for society, businesses and politics. PIK is a member of the Leibniz Association.


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