Several Global Tipping Points May Have Arrived

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) --

If it feels as if you’re living through some sort of massive global tipping point, that’s because it’s very possible you are.

The World Meteorological Association on Tuesday released its annual State of the Global Climate Report. Spoiler alert: It’s not good. The organization projects 22 million people were displaced by extreme weather last year, up from 17.2 million the year before. Temperatures in 2019 were on average 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, making it the second-warmest year on record.

In a foreword to the report, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote that the findings indicate the world is far from achieving the goals outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, and illustrate “the urgency for far-reaching climate action.”

Irreversible changes may start reshaping the world’s ecosystems as soon as the next few years, according to a new study published this week in Nature Communications. The cause is, of course, ongoing pollution and degradation of earth systems. Once these changes begin, researchers warn, the transformation will be rapid. The Amazon rainforests could become open savanna with 50 years, while Caribbean coral reefs might die off in just 15 years.

Disruptions to natural systems inevitably lead to disruptions in social systems. The melting glaciers of the Himalayas have become a political tool in the tussle between China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Water is now a weapon.

Markets are feeling the effects as well. Extreme weather events, coupled with the spread of coronavirus, are unsettling global crop production and raising the risk of food inflation.

Oil markets have recently been rocked by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, causing crude prices to plummet (they were already sinking thanks to the pandemic). Green investments have soared since the last oil price crash in 2014, with more than $1.2 trillion poured into renewable energy in the years since.

Today, there’s less risk of a slide back into fossil-fuel’s oily embrace, experts say. Renewable energy is a more mature industry than five years ago. Now a less risky investment, it’s attracted big investors who have showered it with a lot of cash while building projects that rival the capacity of conventional power plants. At the same time, oil exploration is becoming less economically viable. And with projects like the European Union’s own Green Deal at the top of voters’ minds, there’s little risk politicians will forget about the global climate emergency.

Josh Petri writes the Week in Green newsletter recapping the best reads and key news in climate change and green solutions. .

To contact the author of this story: Josh Petri in Portland at jpetri4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net

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