According to a new study led by the University of Exeter, the “Breakthrough Agenda” recently agreed upon at the international climate change summit COP26 could help trigger positive tipping points to mitigate the climate crisis. At this summit, leaders from all over the globe pledged to “make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible, and attractive option in each emitting sector globally before 2030.”
Such a pledge marks a key shift in thinking. Instead of focusing directly on greenhouse gas emissions targets, this strategy aims to tip economic sectors into new states in which the “green,” sustainable options are the cheapest and easiest to implement. Finding such “positive tipping points” could trigger self-reinforcing feedbacks that can accelerate systemic change.
“The only way we can get anywhere near our global targets on key issues like carbon emissions and biodiversity is through positive tipping points,” said study lead author Tim Lenton, the director of the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University of Exeter.
“The challenges are enormous – we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and reverse biodiversity loss to make our impact ‘nature-positive.’ The Breakthrough Agenda is the first time a large group of countries has agreed joint climate change goals in the form of economic tipping points.”
According to Professor Lenton and his colleagues, tipping points can be triggered by coalitions of committed individuals and, in order to function, need enabling conditions such as the declining price of a green technology. Such combinations of cost and public attitude have already helped to trigger tipping points in the electric vehicles and solar energy sectors, which are both rapidly advancing around the world.
Another positive tipping point that can soon be triggered is related to the growth and uptake of plant-based diets, including meat substitutes.
“Policymakers have a critical role in triggering the shift away from meat-rich diets, for example by investing the trillions of dollars of public R&D spend into the development of plant-based and cell-based meat and dairy alternatives, and by directing the trillions of dollars of public procurement spend towards these products to stimulate demand and drive down costs,” said study co-author Scarlett Benson, a researcher at the global sustainability consultancy SYSTEMIQ.
Positive tipping points can help counter widespread feelings of disempowerment in the face of global crises, and offer possibilities for everyone to get involved in solving them. “These changes often start with small groups of people with a big idea. These can become networks of change that grow into large movements with a major impact,” concluded Professor Lenton.
The study is published in the journal Global Sustainability.