* Irreversible and abrupt shifts likely above 1.5C of warming
* Scientists, policymakers ponder how to warn of and avert worst
* Positive tipping points for a resilient future also possible
EXETER, England, Sept 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With new evidence that catastrophic climate-change “tipping points” are nearing - from surging sea levels as polar ice melts to spiking temperatures as methane escapes thawing permafrost - scientists are quietly planning for the unthinkable.
“Extreme climate change risks are under-explored,” Luke Kemp, a researcher with the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, warned at a pioneering conference on the theme at the University of Exeter this week.
“Climate scholars have strong incentives to err on the side of least drama,” he noted. “You don’t want to be branded an alarmist.”
But with fossil fuel emissions still going up and climate-fuelled disasters multiplying, it’s time for an “honest assessment of the risks and what can be done”, he told an audience stunned into silence by frank assessments of looming threats.
A study published last week in the journal Science found that four dangerous planetary tipping points are “likely” above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) of warming above preindustrial temperatures - a level that could be passed within a decade.