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Exceeding tipping points could triple the costs of climate change

An international team of researchers has developed a new model to predict the economic costs of pushing climate systems past their tipping points. This refers to a critical threshold beyond which the impacts are accelerated and irreversible. The study shows that exceeding climate tipping points will dramatically worsen the economic costs of climate change. 

More specifically, the experts found that surpassing tipping points will increase the cost of damages associated with climate change by at least 25 percent. However, this could be a conservative estimate, as tipping points increase the risks of much greater damages, emphasized the study authors.

The results show that there is a 10 percent chance that tipping points will double the cost of damages related to climate change, and a five percent chance the costs will be tripled.

Study co-author Simon Dietz is an expert at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“Climate scientists have long emphasized the importance of climate tipping points like thawing permafrost, ice sheet disintegration, and changes in atmospheric circulation,” said Professor Dietz.

“Yet, save for a few fragmented studies, climate economics has either ignored them, or represented them in highly stylized ways. We provide unified estimates of the economic impacts of all eight climate tipping points covered in the economic literature so far.”

The researchers considered eight tipping points that have been recently analyzed by scientists, including thawing permafrost, which releases carbon dioxide and methane emissions. This climate system is an example of a reinforcing feedback loop in which thawing permafrost accelerates warming, and warming causes more permafrost to thaw.

The experts also looked at the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is contributing to sea-level rise, and carbon dioxide released from dying trees in the Amazon. 

According to the results of the study, pushing these climate systems past their thresholds will increase economic losses almost everywhere in the world. 

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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