Positive ‘tipping points’ could spark changes that accelerate positive action on climate change, according to researchers at the University of Exeter.
A tipping point is a moment when a small change triggers a large, often irreversible response, researchers have previously warned that the world is dangerously close to several tipping points that could accelerate climate change.
In a new research paper published in the journal Climate Policy, the researchers have identified various positive tipping points in human societies that could rapidly cut carbon emissions.
The authors highlight two examples of where policy interventions have already triggered pertinent tipping points:
- Electric vehicles (EVs) account for 2-3% of new car sales globally. In Norway, this figure is more than 50%, thanks to policies that make EVs more affordable. According to the researchers, a global tipping point will come when EVs cost the same to manufacture as conventional cars.
- In recent years, the UK has decarbonised its power sector faster than any other large country. A carbon tax together with an EU emissions scheme made gas cheaper than coal, combined with increasing renewable energy generation, this tipped coal into profitability and led to the irreversible closure of coal plants. A tipping point could be reached when the cost of capital of coal plants falls below that of wind and solar in all countries.
Professor Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter, said: ‘We have left it too late to tackle climate change incrementally.
‘Limiting global warming to well below 2°C now requires transformational change and a dramatic acceleration of progress. For example, the power sector needs to decarbonise four times faster than its current rate, and the pace of the transition to zero-emission vehicles needs to double.
‘Many people are questioning whether this is achievable. But hope lies in the way that tipping points can spark rapid change through complex systems.
‘If either of these efforts – in power or road transport – succeed, the most important effect could be to tip perceptions of the potential for international cooperation to tackle climate change.’
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