The current rate of warming could place the Earth in danger of reaching the six "dangerous" climate tipping points in accordance with a new study.
If you crossed these thresholds, it could cause disruption to the Earth's system, triggering the melting of ice sheets and disappearance of coral reefs.
The scientific community has already stated that reaching this level would be the definition of a "climatic emergency".
Researchers analyzed evidence for tipping points in 200 papers published in the last few years.
They looked at:
- What temperature at which tipping point would be attained?
- What impact would there be on Earth's other systems?
- What timeframes would the effects could be felt.
The study that was using data that has been published in 2008, has revealed that at the current rate of global warming, the world is at risk of triggering six climate tipping points. The the risk increases with every one tenth of a degree warming.
The Climate Action Tracker estimates that, even under an optimistic scenario, if the current global climate goals are achieved, the globe could experience an average by 1.8 C.
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The concept that there are "climate tipping points" was first suggested by the UN's group of climate scientists, known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about more than two decades ago.
If they are crossed, they could trigger an important change in the way Earth's systems function, which could affect weather, oceans, and chemical processes. This might become "irreversible", according to the UN.
Once a threshold is crossed also known as "tipped over" - the break-down of the system is self-sustaining and will last regardless of further warming.
This self-perpetuates: Similar to when you have a ball that reaches over the top of the hill, and begins to roll down the hill and will not stop.
At the time , it was believed that the tipping points could only be crossed if global average temperatures rose to greater than 5C.
However, since then there's been increasing evidence suggesting that these thresholds could be crossed earlier.
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These six factors "likely" to be crossed according to the study which was released in Science the journal, are:
- Greenland Ice Sheet collapse
- West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse
- The ocean circulation has collapsed in the Polar zone of North Atlantic
- Coral reefs die off in low latitudes.
- The sudden thawing of permafrost has occurred throughout the Northern regions
- Rapid loss of sea ice within the Barents Sea.
The lead writer David Armstrong McKay, from Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Exeter and the Earth Commission, said some instability that could be a sign of an eventual breakdown of the system is beginning to show up in the Arctic regions.
Greenland along with Antarctica are at present losing the ice at a rate six times more quickly than they did 30 years before and Greenland's glacier has been shrinking constantly in the past 25 years because of the climate change, in the words of the UN.
Although certain of the different "tipping points" such as dieback in the Amazon Rainforest aren't expected to be activated until global temperatures increase by 3.5C All of these systems are interconnected. When one system starts to fail, it can raise the risk of the other falling apart.
Multiple tipping points
Author Ricarda Winkelmann, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and an active part of the Earth Commission has stated: "Importantly, many tipping elements in the Earth system are interlinked, making cascading tipping points a serious additional concern."
For instance, if there are smaller or less sea ice and ice sheets, so less solar energy is reflected which leads to more global warming.
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In addition to identifying these risks, the team suggested the potential list of tipping points should be expanded by a number of points, from 9 to 16.
The team used paleoclimate records (climate conditions that occurred thousands many years old) along with current observations as well as the outputs of climate models to come up with these new determinations.
However, some of the previously thought to be tipping points, such as that of the Southern El Nino Oscillation (ENSO) were taken off the table due to insufficient evidence.
Listen to The Climate Tipping Points on BBC Sounds.