Three in four people think climate change is reaching an irreversible ‘tipping point’

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·3 min read
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Is the world approaching a 'tipping point'? (Getty)

Three out of four people now believe that the world is approaching an irreversible ‘tipping point’ due to the actions of the human race, a survey has found. 

The Ipsos MORI survey questioned almost 20,000 people aged 16 to 75 living in the world’s 20 major economies (the G20) in April and May this year. 

Last week, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that extreme weather events had already increased and will get worse, due to climate change caused by the actions of human beings. 

The survey asked nearly 50 questions on attitudes to climate and nature and the global economy, and was commissioned by Global Commons Alliance, a network of more than 70 international groups working on sustainability.

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The survey found that 73% believe that the world is approaching tipping points in the climate and other natural systems, due to burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

“People are more aware in emerging economies like Indonesia and Brazil,” said Owen Gaffney, a director at the Global Commons Alliance and lead author of a report based on the survey.

“In countries where you are very close to very big ecosystems undergoing huge change because of humanity, you’re more aware of the risks and in touch with the scale of change happening.”

But just 58% of people living in G20 nations - which includes wealthy G7 countries and big emerging economies - said they are very or extremely concerned about the state of the planet’s climate and biodiversity.

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Four in five people are willing to do more to protect and rejuvenate the climate and nature, with a greater willingness among developing economies, the survey said.

Three out of four people also agreed their country’s economy should move beyond a narrow focus on profit and growth to encompass human wellbeing and ecological regeneration, it found.

Last week’s UN climate change report warned that extreme weather events like heatwaves and droughts which previously would have happened every 50 years could soon happen every four. 

The report was the first to quantify the likelihood of extreme events across a wide variety of scenarios. 

The researchers also warned that other ‘tipping point’ events are a possibility. 

The researchers wrote, “Abrupt responses and tipping points of the climate system, such as strongly increased Antarctic ice sheet melt and forest dieback, cannot be ruled out”.

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Dr. Robert Rohde, Lead Scientist of Berkeley Earth said, “What were once-in-50-year heat extremes are now occurring every 10 years.

“By a rise of two degrees celsius, those same extremes will occur every 3.5 years.”

The report found that (for example) once-in-a-decade heavy rain events are already 1.3 times more likely and 6.7% wetter, compared with the 50 years leading up to 1900 when human-driven warning began to occur. 

Droughts that previously happened once a decade now happen every five or six years. 

Xuebin Zhang, a climatologist with Environment Canada in Toronto warned that as the world warms, such extreme weather events will not just become more frequent, they will become more severe.

Zhang said that the world should also expect more compound events, such as heat waves and long-term droughts occurring simultaneously.

Zhang said, “We are not going to be hit just by one thing, we are going to be hit by multiple things at the same time.”

Watch: Droughts pose global threat to hydropower

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