POLIS at COP28: Dr Viktoria Spaiser contributes to Global Tipping Points Report

The Global Tipping Points Report was launched on 6th December 2023 at COP28 in Dubai.

Global Tipping Points is led by Professor Tim Lenton from the University of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute with the support of more than 200 researchers from over 90 organisations in 26 countries.

Dr Viktoria Spaiser, who has contibuted to the project, appeared online at COP28 at the launch event for the Global Tipping Points Report. The report is the most comprehensive assessment of tipping points ever conducted. 

What are “tipping points”?

A tipping point occurs when a small change triggers an often rapid and irreversible transformation, and the effects can be positive or negative. Before a tipping point is triggered, the Earth or social system has already undergone destabilisation, so a small change is sufficient to tip it.  

At the launch event at COP28, researchers warned that further rises in global temperatures could trigger a number of global tipping points that would have catastrophic consequences for the planet and humanity. 

About tipping points, Professor Lenton has said that,

They can trigger devastating domino effects, including the loss of whole ecosystems and capacity to grow staple crops, with societal impacts including mass displacement, political instability and financial collapse.

But tipping points also offer our best hope: we need to prioritise and trigger positive tipping points in our societies and economies.

Positive tipping points

The research argues that positive tipping points that exist in social systems can be harnessed to bring about societal change that could prevent catastrophic climate change. For example, a tipping point in society could result in changes to social norms, thus redefining the socially desirable and acceptable behaviours. 

The rise of anti-fossil fuel sentiment could tip into becoming established social norms around the world. Dr Spaiser has said that,

The rise of anti-fossil fuel norms is seeded by social movements, such as young climate activists and the concentrated demand at COP28 to finally agree to phase-out all fossil fuels is a clear sign that these norms are gaining traction. 

The inclusion of a call to phase out fossil fuels in the COP28 agreement could be the “small” change that could result in a tipping point.

Once this tipping of anti-fossil fuel norms occurs, cascading effects are possible, such as the acceleration of clean energy deployment and re-channelling of financial flows away from fossil fuels.

The report makes six key recommendations:

  • Phase out fossil fuels and land-use emissions now, stopping them well before 2050.
  • Strengthen adaptation and “loss and damage” governance, recognising inequality between and within nations.
  • Include tipping points in the Global Stocktake – the world’s climate “inventory” – and Nationally Determined Contributions, each country’s efforts to tackle climate change.
  • Coordinate policy efforts to trigger positive tipping points.
  • Convene an urgent global summit on tipping points.
  • Deepen knowledge of tipping points. The research team supports calls for an IPCC Special Report on tipping points.

About COP28

Dr Spaiser has reflected on her online participation at COP28:

I participated at this year's COP28 as an online delegate, rather than flying to Dubai, but Tim Lenton, who was leading the report, as well as Manjana Milkoreit and Laura Pereira, other important contributors to the report, were present in Dubai to launch the report and promote it.

The online participation was useful, as I could witness the Global Tipping Points Report launch event and get an impression of how negotiations are conducted, hear the perspectives from around the world, as our understanding of how the climate crisis and proposed solutions are perceived in various countries around the world, is often underdeveloped and biased.

I hope a just, honest and science-based agreement can be reached and I hope our report will contribute to that.

The Global Tipping Points Report is available to read on the project on the project’s website.

Find out more about the University of Leeds delegation at COP28 on the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures website.