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Understanding and mobilizing positive tipping points in a rapidly warming world

This paper describes the constraints for radial transformations in global systems dynamics, which currently drive the unsustainable and inequitable use of the Earth’s resources, and identifies opportunities for rapid sustainabilisation: positive tipping points.

The challenge of meeting the UNFCCC CoP21 goal of keeping global warming ‘well below 2°C and to pursue efforts towards 1.5°C’ (the 2-1.4 °C Paris target) calls for the accelerated development of human capacities to implement transformative solutions in multiple contexts of action. Achieving the target requires to address the root causes, individual motives and incentive structures of excessive greenhouse gas emissions which propel climate change.

Together with colleagues from the IMPRESSIONS project, we sought to better understand the constraints for radial transformations in global systems dynamics, which currently drive the unsustainable and inequitable use of the Earth’s resources, as well as to identify opportunities for rapid sustainabilisation. To this end, we reviewed literature on tipping points and introduce the notion of positive tipping points as emergent properties derived from complex systems dynamics, including both human capacities and structural conditions. These positive tipping points would allow the fast deployment of evolutionary-like transformative solutions to tackle the present socio-climate quandary. So far, most research has focused on examining the catastrophic, abrupt nature of tipping points.

Our paper presents an approach to assessing positive tipping points in a high-end climate world. We provide a simple operational synthesis and framework aimed at identifying and supporting the building of agent capacities and system conditions conclusive to positive transformations towards sustainability and resilience. Given the non-linear, cumulative and complex dynamics it is not possible to anticipate when, how, where or even if positive tipping points will occur. However, it is possible to identify and appraise the kinds of specific capacities of humans which could help to implement concrete transformative solutions in many different systems of action. Moreover, it is possible to do so in alignment with long-term visions for a better life and according to the needs and priorities of different kinds of groups and people. We show how these capacities and conditions vary according to future social-ecological conditions in which humans will live by identifying capacities in the context of different socio-economic and climate change scenarios in Europe.

Citation
Tàbara, J.D., Frantzeskaki, N., Hölscher, K., Pedde, S., Kok, K., Lamperti, F., Christensen J.H., Jäger, J., Berry, P. (2018). Positive tipping points in a rapidly warming world. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31:120-129. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2018.01.012

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Date
March 19, 2018