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Earth at risk of tipping into hellish 'hothouse' conditions

10 August 2018

To reverse this potential domino effect, climate change needs to be combated on all fronts, the report says, with "collective human action" is required to steer us away from this potential threshold, including "decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values".

Average global temperatures are now 1C above pre-industrial times, a trend that the scientific community has mainly blamed on man-caused climate change.

Each year, the Earth's forests, oceans and land soak up about 4.5 billion tons of carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere adding to temperature increases.

This temperature was chosen as it was believed to be a tipping point for the climate - so common wisdom held that as long as we didn't exceed that number, we should be fine.

This would make several regions of the planet unfit for the humans.

The research highlighted 10 "feedback processes" that were predicted to kick in at around 2C of global warming.

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Feedback mechanisms would act like a row of dominoes, spinning the world into a state of climate change that will alter the landscape of the planet.

The world is at risk of entering "hothouse" conditions where global average temperatures will be four to five degrees Celcius higher even if emissions reduction targets under a global climate deal are met, according to a new report by top worldwide scientists.

Our planet is at the risk of entering an irreversible "hothouse" condition - where the global temperatures will rise by four to five degrees and sea levels may surge by up to 60 metres higher than today - even if targets under the Paris climate deal are met, a study warns.

The research refers to tipping elements that could turn natural carbon storage systems or sinks into powerful greenhouse gas emitters. "Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth toward another", said Johan Rockström, co-author of the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. "It may be very hard or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over", Steffen said in a statement.

Essentially, parts of the earth would become uninhabitable, sea levels would rise dramatically and a whole host of other problems would emerge in a domino effect.

The feedbacks include methane release from thawing permafrost, loss of snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere, loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and dramatic reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets.

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The scientists wrote: "Our analysis suggests that the Earth system may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions - Hothouse Earth".

Steffen added that these feedbacks would be hard to influence by human actions.

At the moment, temperatures have globally risen with 1 C above the pre-industrial level.

Achieving the HFC phasedown objectives of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol could avoid 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions by 2050 and prevent a global average temperature increase of 0.5°C by 2100.

"In the context of the summer of 2018, this is definitely not a case of crying wolf, raising a false alarm: the wolves are now in sight", said Phil Williamson, climate researcher at the University of East Anglia.

Chris Rapley, Professor of Climate Science at University College London said: "Previous research has shown that an increase in the mean global temperature of 11-12C would make more than half of the land area now occupied by humans uninhabitable".

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Earth at risk of tipping into hellish 'hothouse' conditions