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World at risk of heading towards irreversible 'hothouse' state

10 August 2018

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

Even if humankind succeeds in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the extent enshrined in the Paris Agreement, irreversible changes taking place on Earth will disrupt these efforts and trigger unsustainable levels of drought, according to a study published on Monday (6 August).

Professor Steffen said countries needed to work together to "greatly accelerate the transition towards an emission-free world economy".

It is very important to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases "warm up" the Earth.

If humans cause the earth's global average temperature to increase by a further 1 degree Celsius, the world could face a "hothouse" climate and trigger further warming - even when all human emissions cease, an worldwide study has found.

Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1C above the pre-industrial period and rising at 0.17C each decade.

If a critical threshold is crossed, they add, several such tipping points will compound all over the globe and lead to abrupt change.

These include permafrost thaw, the loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weaker land and ocean carbon sinks, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice, the reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets, and a few others we probably don't even know of yet.

"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes", said study co-author Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, an independent research institute that specializes in sustainable development and environmental issues.

He said: "Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very hard or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over", Professor Steffen said.

Scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Center, the University of Copenhagen, Australian National University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research have laid bare the consequences of breaching the 2C mark.

The planet urgently needs to transition to a green economy because fossil fuel pollution risks pushing the Earth into a lasting and unsafe "hothouse" state, researchers warned on Monday. In particular, we address tipping elements in the planetary machinery that might, once a certain stress level has been passed, one by one change fundamentally, rapidly, and perhaps irreversibly. Such a cascade could tip the entire Earth into a new mode of operation.

"Hothouse planet", after 32 years, our Land may become the case if the average temperature of the planet will increase by 4-5 °C in the long term. But the HFC phasedown can help mitigate the risk, the researchers find.

Maximising the chances of avoiding a "Hothouse Earth" requires not only reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but also enhancement and creation of new biological carbon stores through improved forest, agricultural and soil management, and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground, researchers said.

The study says that the Earth would eventually stabilise at four to five degrees higher than the current average temperature.

Scientists believe if global temperatures exceed that level, climate change will become "dangerous", threatening to existence of some nations with rising sea levels.

World at risk of heading towards irreversible 'hothouse' state