• Nikki Latham

COP 26 Deal Sparks Hope For Positive Tipping Points

Earlier this year at COP 26 the Breakthrough Agenda was agreed to help trigger positive tipping points to tackle the climate crisis, researchers say.


At the summit, leaders of countries covering 70% of the world GDP pledged to "make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030". This signalled a key shift in thinking - instead of focusing directly on emissions targets, it aims to tip economic sectors into a new state where the "green" option is cheapest and easiest.

Photo credits: The TIST project harnesses positive tipping points (credit John Ambler) Professor Tim Lenton (credit University Of Exeter)

A tipping point occurs when a small intervention sparks a rapid, often irreversible transformation - and a new paper offers a "recipe" for finding and triggering positive tipping points.

"The only way we can get anywhere near our global targets on key issues like carbon emissions and biodiversity is through positive tipping points," said lead author Professor Tim Lenton, Director of the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter. "The challenges are enormous – we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and reverse biodiversity loss to make our impact 'nature-positive'.

"The Breakthrough Agenda is the first time a large group of countries has agreed joint climate change goals in the form of economic tipping points.

"We argued for precisely this in a previous paper, and we are heartened to see world leaders adopting this approach.

"Our new paper shows a variety of ways that tipping points can be activated.

"Societies worldwide will need to put all of these into action to bring about low-carbon transitions at the pace and scale required to avoid dangerous climate change."

The paper examines the "enabling conditions" for a tipping point (such as the declining price of green technology), and how the tipping point could be triggered. Combinations of factors such as cost and public attitude have helped to trigger tipping points in electric vehicles and solar energy, which in tur leads to feedbacks of technological improvements and lower costs. The paper written by a team including researchers from Hamburg University and University College London and published in the journal Global Sustainability, is entitled: "Operationalising Positive Tipping Points towards Global Sustainability".

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