Knowledge for a sustainable world

Uche Okpara, Joshua Muhumuza

The world has reached a pivotal moment as threats from Earth system tipping points – and progress towards positive tipping points – both accelerate, according to a new report. NRI’s Dr. Uche Okpara, Senior Lecturer in Climate Change, State Fragility and Conflict was a contributing author to the report.

Launched at COP28 in Dubai on 6 December 2023, the report reveals that humanity is currently on a disastrous trajectory. It says that the threat posed by the climate and ecological crisis is far more severe than is commonly understood and is of a magnitude never before faced by humanity. Preventing this – and doing so equitably – is only possible if societies and economic systems are transformed to rapidly reduce emissions and restore nature.

A tipping point is reached when a small change triggers a swift and irreversible transformation, which can yield either beneficial or detrimental outcomes. As Earth system tipping points multiply, there is a risk of catastrophic, global-scale loss of capacity to grow staple crops. Without urgent global action to halt the climate and ecological crisis, societies will be overwhelmed as the natural world comes apart.

The Global Tipping Points Report – the most comprehensive assessment of tipping points ever conducted – concludes that ‘business as usual’ is no longer feasible – with rapid changes to nature and societies already underway, and more coming.

The report presents a roadmap for global action, urging leaders gathered at COP28 to expedite efforts in leveraging positive tipping points and guiding the world towards a prosperous and sustainable future. It argues that ambitious and harmonised policies have the potential to trigger positive tipping points in various sectors such as energy, transportation, and food, yielding extensive advantages. Importantly, good global governance is necessary to match the scale of the challenge we are facing. A cascade of positive tipping points would not only save countless lives and shield billions from adversity, but also save trillions of dollars in climate-related losses and initiate the restoration of the vital natural world we all rely upon.

Widescale roll out of renewable energy will help avert negative tipping points

Crucially, negative tipping point threats can be mitigated if there is a vast effort to trigger positive tipping point opportunities. Such opportunities include exponentially increasing the use of renewable electricity, advancing the global reach of environmental justice movements, and accelerating the rollout and use of electric vehicles. The implication of this is that the speed of implementation of zero-carbon and other green transition solutions will now determine the future of billions of people.

The Report, coordinated by the University of Exeter and funded by Bezos Earth Fund, lays out several ways in which positive tipping points can be better harnessed across multiple sectors to steer us towards a thriving, sustainable future. It offers six recommendations on the actions needed to quickly change course towards positive tipping points.

  • 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

Dr. Uche Okpara said: ‘The Report provides critical benchmark information on social and Earth system negative and positive tipping points. It is a great honour to be part of the global tipping points research community and to participate in providing this major internationally peer-reviewed report for leaders, governments and societies around the world.’

Uche ‘s contributions include new insights and case studies which illustrate how negative social tipping points triggered by climate change and Earth system tipping could have catastrophic impacts on human societies.

Parts of the Global Tipping Points Report have been published in a special issue of the journal Earth System Dynamics. Uche’s expert contributions to the chapter on Negative Social Tipping Points resulted in two multi-authored papers in this special issue. The papers are Negative Social Tipping Dynamics Resulting from and Reinforcing Earth System Destabilisation, and Tipping cascades between conflict and cooperation in climate change.

The full report is available at

For more information:

Dr Uche Okpara