select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to The Global Tipping Points Report 2023

Scientists react to the Global Tipping Points Report 2023. 


Dr Louise Sime, climate scientist and tipping points expert at British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said:

“We have seen evidence of multiple huge cascading tipping events in ice cores collected from the Polar Regions, so I am deeply concerned about the presence of tipping points in today’s climate. Whilst rapid and irreversible changes of this nature are of course hard to plan for, this most timely report compiles the evidence that the policy makers at COP28 need to plan their crucial decision-making on these tipping points.”

BAS also published a briefing note on tipping points earlier this year:


Prof Johan Rockström, Professor in Environmental Science at the Stockholm Resilience Center, said:

“This report confirms the need to take tipping points seriously, and that they not only are hard-wired in the Earth system, but are very likely just around the corner, many of them already at 1.5°C of global warming. This calls for urgent action, and the report draws a fundamental conclusion from this fact – nothing less than social tipping points are required to enable a manageable and dignified climate future. Incremental change is not an option.”


Dr Gregory Cooper, University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food, said:

“This report makes it explicit that we are now in a race against time with the window of opportunity rapidly closing. Can we facilitate and reach positive tipping points, such as the rapid scale-up of electric vehicle technology, before negative tipping points are reached and the window slams shut?

“Whilst highlighting a number of uncertainties, such as the exact impacts of ocean mixing on tipping point occurrence, these uncertainties are not an excuse for inaction. Funders must prioritise research to minimise uncertainties whilst decisionmakers plan for the worst case scenario. They have to remember that not every solution is a magic bullet, and the most impactful solutions will often require time and painstaking research.

“The implications of tipping points stretch far beyond our climate, to the freshwater that we drink, the air that we breathe and the quantity and quality of food on our plates. This report calls for urgent research into how climate tipping points will influence our global food systems, and ultimately our ability to eradicate hunger as per the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”


Dr Zoë Thomas, Lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Southampton, said:

“This report is written against a backdrop of anthropogenic climate change that is already pushing the Earth System into uncharted territory. This comprehensive review of global tipping points will likely become the benchmark for how we understand them at a global scale. Increasingly studies show that the interactions of fast and slow drivers mean it is difficult to predict precisely when large global systems such as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or the Amazon Rainforest will likely tip – but crucially they do show that on current trajectories it is (a) inevitable, and (b) may happen sooner than we think.”


Prof Pete Langdon, Professor of Quaternary Science and Associate Dean at the University of Southampton, said:

“Coupled with the threats posed by Earth System Tipping Points and their potential cascading effects, the report highlights the precariousness of our future, hence the declaration of a ‘final warning’ for humanity. However, the report also detailed examples of so-called ‘positive tipping points’, illustrating instances where government policies have proven effective to instigate and perpetuate changes that reduce the risk of passing dangerous Earth System tipping points. Moreover, with concerted action, positive tipping points could enable a transition to a more sustainable world in the longer term. With these examples, the report serves as a crucial call to action. The language used is important. While – rightly – the report caveats some of the uncertainty around when and how specific tipping points may occur, we can be certain that without more robust policy changes at both local and global scales, the planet will pass new, uncharted thresholds. It is time for global governance to be as bold as the challenges we face.”


Dr Philip Holden, Senior Lecturer in Earth System Science at The Open University, said:

“While the possibility of catastrophic climate tipping points has been in the public consciousness for some time, the potential for societal tipping points to drive a rapid green transformation is far less appreciated, often even by climate scientists who have been jaded by decades of inaction, but it is societal tipping points that now provide the best hope for keeping global warming at relatively safe levels.”


Dr Leslie Mabon, Lecturer in Environmental Systems at The Open University, said:

“As COP28 gets underway in the United Arab Emirates, the Global Tipping Points Report is a clear warning to world leaders that they must work together and agree on meaningful and rapid action, if the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided. This is especially so for the richer high-emitting nations, who have the most responsibility for climate change but also access to the finances and technologies that can energise positive changes globally.

“The report spells out what has long been understood in the scientific community. Climate doesn’t always change gradually, and once certain thresholds like ice sheet shrinkage and loss of forest coverage are crossed, the changes can become fast and unpredictable. The authors are also very clear that although the science can’t tell us everything with complete certainty, we as a society know enough to know that urgent and coordinated action is needed to prevent the most harmful climate impacts.

“However, the report reminds us that whilst the situation is very serious, it’s also possible to reach positive tipping points in our societies and economies, where emissions can reduce very quickly across the whole system if new technologies or different behaviours come into play. Yet the authors are unequivocal that technology alone won’t save us. As the report outlines, reaching these positive tipping points will require social movements to energise widespread changes in how we go about our lives, and global governance mechanisms to ensure that the highest emitting nations do their bit and that the least well-off are not further disadvantaged.”


Dr Kevin Collins, Senior Lecturer Environment & Systems at The Open University, said:

“Uncertainty is always present because the dynamics and outcomes of natural and social systems are emergent – impacts arise out of the interplay of many factors and choices.  It is not possible to predict.  The report recognises there is considerable uncertainty about if and when tipping points will be reached.  To address this problem, the authors suggest early clues can be seen in system perturbations and loss of resilience.  

“While these are useful indicators, a key limitation of the report and tipping points in general is that recognition and determination of the tipping point timeline, triggers and processes is often dependent on one’s position in the system.  There will be multiple perspectives on what the food or forest or health system actually is in terms of boundary choices and components, the key drivers, and when that system may or may not tip (positively or negatively).  While the authors present good science and rationale for approaching and making sense of tipping points using multiple knowledges, the report does not explore how this might be done in practice.

“The implications for humans and the environment are that tipping points can occur at different scales from local through to global and can cascade rapidly, affecting many sectors and communities at different times.  This impacts our health, food, social structures, cities, economies as well as the environmental systems and resources we depend on.  While we are already experiencing negative impacts, the report is an important reminder to policymakers and the public that our choices and actions can contribute to positive tipping points to achieve more sustainable outcomes and futures. “A new politics is needed that calls for governance of socio-ecological systems based on principles of environmental and social justice, rather than economic return as a poor proxy for human and planetary welfare. 

“Fundamentally, the idea of tipping points requires us to think and act both systematically and systemically.  This is a major challenge to existing framings of the world shaped by an over-reliance on reductionist science in global education systems and governance. To avoid negative, and to pursue positive tipping points requires individuals, organisations and societies urgently develop new understanding and skills in systems thinking and practice.”


Dr Sarah Das, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US, said:

“The science is crystal clear: Earth’s ocean and cryosphere can behave in ways completely unlike the relatively stable conditions under which we know and humanity evolved. Coastal inundation on biblical scales due to ice sheet collapse, abrupt temperature changes altering ecosystems across continents within mere decades from the shutdown in massive ocean currents, and many other events in Earth’s history have shown us how complex, interconnected, and sensitive these physical systems are. The risks for humanity in crossing tipping points into these unexplored states is dire, and the impact to human lives potentially horrific. I’ve dedicated my life to understanding and communicating about these systems, and their risks, in the hope of averting the worst. Whatever our differences, we all want a safe, healthy, and habitable planet within which our children, and all children, can prosper and thrive far into the future. That common ground, coupled with so many solutions already at hand, gives me hope and keeps me going.”



‘The Global Tipping Points Report’ by Prof Tim Lenton et al. was published at 00.01 UK time on Wednesday 6 December.



Declared interests

Louise Sime – no interests to declare

Zoë Thomas – no COIs to declare.

Pete Langdon – no COIs to declare.

Gregory Cooper – no conflicts

Philip Holden – no interests to declare

Leslie Mabon – no interests to declare

Kevin Collins – no interests to declare

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag