How could positive “tipping points” accelerate climate action?

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Editor’s note: This story is part of the SoJo Exchange of the Solutions Journalism network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting on responses to social issues. He is reposted from The context courtesy of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that spans the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly.

Scientists believe dangerous climate change ‘tipping points’ are approaching – from soaring sea levels as polar ice melts to rapidly rising temperatures as methane escapes thawing permafrost .

A study published in September in the journal Science found that four dangerous planetary tipping points are likely if global warming reaches more than 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial temperatures.

That limit – which governments are striving to meet under the 2015 Paris Agreement – could be exceeded within a decade, scientists have warned.

Tipping points occur when a small change – such as a gradual increase in global temperature – triggers a rapid and often irreversible transformation.

But they may not all be bad. “Positive” tipping points for the climate are also possible, as solar and wind power become cheaper than fossil fuels, electric vehicles take off, meat alternatives become tastier and social norms change.

“I think our best, and perhaps last, hope for avoiding bad tipping points is to find and trigger good tipping points,” says Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Washington. ‘Exeter.

Here is an overview of some of the potential positive changes and the ways they could be triggered:

Electric vehicles

In Norway, 84% of new cars registered in January 2022 were electric, part of an acceleration in the shift away from fossil-fuel vehicles. It also happens in other places, although more slowly.

Why is the exchange taking place? In Norway, a combination of rising taxes on fossil fuel vehicles and subsidies to buy electric vehicles has made them the cheapest choice.

In a growing number of countries, rising vehicle efficiency standards, investment in charging infrastructure, higher charges on more polluting cars or limits on where they can be driven are all helping more drivers to consider electricity as the next smart purchase.

In sectors such as the automotive sector, educating “key players” – including the CEOs of large companies – about the potential climate risks and the benefits to be gained from an electrical switch can also drive change, says Johan Rockström, director from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

The leading climate scientist now sits on the advisory board of Daimler – the parent company of Mercedes-Benz – one of several major manufacturers now considering going electric.

Similar green shifts among major companies are happening in other sectors, including the seafood industry, he says.

“Business has changed its focus on corporate social responsibility, which is about perceptions,” says Rockström. “Now it’s about a competitiveness strategy.”

To eat meat

Feeding livestock is a major contributor to the tightening global food supply and the expansion of agricultural fields and pastures for fodder is one of the world’s leading drivers of deforestation, a major contributor to climate change.

As overall meat consumption increases, as the world’s population grows and some poor countries become wealthier, an increase in tastier and more appealing meat alternatives is helping to shift away from meat consumption in some countries.

A boy feeds his goats at a cattle market ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in Kolkata, India August 9, 2019. Photo courtesy REUTERS | Rupak of Chowdhuri

Scarlett Benson, who works on tipping points for the Food and Land Use Coalition, says a faster shift to meat alternatives – like many green shifts – is becoming possible as five “enabling” conditions are increasingly fulfilled.

These include: price (is it cheaper?), performance (is it any good?), accessibility (can you get it at the local store?), culture (your friends and family do it too?) And ability (do you know how to cook it?).

Other changes accelerating the move away from meat range from investing in innovations – such as lab-grown meat – to using public markets – including the purchase of meat substitutes for school meals – to help create economies of scale, Benson said.

Additional measures could include establishing national dietary guidelines, banning the marketing of unhealthy products and possibly implementing a carbon tax, she added.

Clean energy

Renewable energy – solar and wind – is fast becoming the cheapest form of energy in much of the world, a reality that means even those who don’t care about climate change are likely to find themselves using it says Doyne Farmer, director of the complexity economics program at Oxford Martin School.

But economic boosts are accelerating change in some places.

Britain, for example, has reduced climate change emissions from its electricity supply to eight times the global rate over the past decade by using a small carbon tax that made coal power un competitive with gas, says Simon Sharpe, senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. .

Significant investments in offshore wind energy and a pioneering government pledge to become net zero by 2050 have also driven progress in green electricity.

What can help make smart decisions, Sharpe says, is moving from weighing costs and benefits, often short-term, to analyzing risks and opportunities.

That could help accelerate decarbonization, which needs to happen five times faster than current levels globally, Lenton says.

“We need ways to accelerate agreed-upon change — and creating systems that self-accelerate afterwards is at the heart of a positive tipping point,” he says.

solar panel in pakistan

People in a rickshaw carry a solar panel during a heatwave in Jacobabad, Pakistan May 14, 2022. Photo courtesy REUTERS | Akhtar Soumro

Peer pressure

Social tipping points can also emerge, from graduates avoiding jobs in unsustainable companies to families investing in solar panels, eating less meat or joining climate change protests when friends and neighbors do the same things. .

“Tipping doesn’t happen because everyone sees the light at the same time, but because we are influenced by the opinions of others,” says W. Brian Arthur, a Californian economist who works on complexity theory.

“When enough people change their minds… it becomes more likely that you will change your mind,” he says, citing the rapid and rapid decline in smoking from the 1970s as its health effects became clear. and that restrictions were enacted.

In almost all cases, politicians only act on an issue once they see there is social support, he says – one reason to act individually on climate change issues.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that societal change – and funding to address threats – is possible “at a speed and on a scale we previously thought unimaginable”, says Andrew Simms, founder of the Rapid Transition Alliance, a network international organizations working to accelerate climate action.

Now, he says, it’s time to apply this approach to address climate threats and improve lives in the process.

“What’s not to like about isolated houses?” Jobs created by insulating houses? Investing pensions in renewable energies? Some of these solutions are in front of us – we just need to deploy them,” he adds.

Editor’s note: The main photo of Rodrigue Kauahou and Jose Carlos Navarro, workers from the installation company Alromar, installing solar panels on the roof of a house in Colmenar Viejo, Spain on June 19, 2020, is a courtesy of REUTERS | Sergio Perez.


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