Leaders Urge Action as New Science Shows Earth Systems at Tipping Point

19 Jan 2023
  • 1.5C warming will push critical Earth systems, including Greenland and West Antarctic icesheets, towards irreversible collapse, triggering 10 metre sea-level rise
  • New science reveals connectivity between tipping points, with North and South Poles regulating stability of entire climate system
  • Ground-breaking research defines safe, and just, planetary boundaries to ensure all people have access to basic needs and rights
  • For more information on the Annual Meeting, visit www.weforum.org. Share on social media using the hashtag #wef23

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 18 January 2023 – The Greenland icesheet is warming four times faster than the planet as a whole, triggering a domino effect of interconnected disasters that threaten the viability of Earth’s life-support systems on which human civilization depends, participants were told at a session on the Earth’s New Normal at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

Ground-breaking scientific research reveals four critical Earth systems are at risk in a 1.5C warmer world. This rapidly approaching reality is likely to trigger the irreversible collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, which together represent 10 metres of sea-level rise. Melting ice is already stalling the Atlantic jet stream and causing forest fires in the Amazon rainforest – another critical Earth system approaching its own tipping point from carbon sink to source.

“We are taking colossal risks with the future of civilization on Earth, we are degrading the life support systems that we all depend on, we are actually pushing the entire Earth system to a point of destabilization, pushing Earth outside of the state that has supported civilization since we left the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago,” said lead researcher Johan Rockström, Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

For the first time, scientists have defined the planetary limits required to secure a safe and just corridor for people and planet, where “just” means protecting people from harm and ensuring their access to basic needs. Science indicates that “1.5 degrees Celsius is a physical limit, it is not a political target”, Rockström said. Yet every month we use 1% of the remaining carbon budget for this “safe boundary” 1.5C, while the “just boundary” of one degree warming is already behind us. We have also breached the safe and just boundaries for nature, biodiversity, water and nutrients.

“If we do the minimum at this pivotable moment in our history, then we and our children – even if we are rich – will live in the danger zone. But if we – business people, governments, citizens, cities – take action today, then we and our children will have a future worth looking forward to,” said lead researcher Joyeeta Gupta, Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South, University of Amsterdam.

Responding to the scientific data, Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego, President of Colombia, said the profit-driven logic of global capitalism, powered by fossil fuels, has “resulted in a kind of global anarchy”. He called for a new kind of “decarbonized capitalism…which should state explicitly that the only way to stop the climate crisis is to put an end to fossil fuel consumption – this means capital linked to coal, oil and gas should lose its value.”

There is some good news, said Al Gore, Chairman and Co-Founder, Generation Investment Management. The Inflation Reduction Act in the US has provided $369 billion of climate tax credits that will trigger much larger investment in the green transition. Elections in Australia and Brazil have changed those countries’ climate policies.

He cautioned: “The crisis is still getting worse faster than we are deploying solutions – emissions are still going up.” He made an impassioned plea for a far greater level of urgency. “Climate refugees are predicted to reach 1 billion this century,” said Gore, adding: “we would lose our capacity for self-governance on this world – we have to act.”

Fawn Sharp, President, National Congress of American Indians, described how Indigenous peoples are guardians of nature and biodiversity. “Chief Seattle taught us that all things are connected – what we do to Earth we do to ourselves,” she said. “Do not look at decisions as a cost of business, look at decisions as human existence and our relatives’ existence for generations to come.”

Innovation is essential, said Marc Benioff, Chair and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Salesforce. He added that technologies can now, for the first time, map methane leaks and the locations of the carbon we need to take care of. But first, he said, “We all have to do step 1 – we have to commit to net zero, we have no choice. The evidence is crystal clear – number 1: reduce emissions and number 2: restore ecosystems.”

Andrew Forrest, Chairman and Founder, Fortescue Metals Group, highlighted belief, leadership, action and collaboration as four vital factors for progress. “This is a public commitment: I’ll do everything I can with my companies to stop global warming and to eliminate emissions – I’ll ensure every executive bonus is attached to that target. It’s not only right for the planet, this is good business.”

About the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 convenes the world’s foremost leaders under the theme, Cooperation in a Fragmented World. For further information, click here.

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