The world is interconnected and faces several environmental ‘tipping points’ that, if unaddressed, could trigger dramatic changes in society, scientists say in a new report. .
Interconnected Disaster Risks, published by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU EHS), aims to highlight the interrelationships between risks facing the world. This emphasizes that when ecosystems, food systems, and water systems deteriorate, instability increases over time, reaching tipping points that can fundamentally change the system or cause it to collapse. I am.
The report supports solutions that address the root causes of six risks: unbearable heat, biodiversity extinction, groundwater depletion, melting glaciers, uninsurability, and space debris.
All of these risks are already evident in some parts of the world. For example, more than 50 percent of the world’s aquifers are losing water faster than they can be replaced. Food production is at risk when water falls below the level that makes wells accessible. Saudi Arabia has crossed this tipping point. In the mid-1990s, large-scale groundwater extraction helped the country become the world’s sixth-largest wheat exporter. However, since 2017, it has relied on imports.
Solutions in this report include: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Create a world without waste. Respect nature’s needs. Fostering a “global civic mindset.” and replacing growth based on relentless economic growth with growth based on supporting human well-being while remaining within the boundaries of the planet.
Meltwater from glaciers and snow provides drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and water for ecosystems. But glacier retreat, where glaciers melt faster than snow can replenish them, is occurring in many places, as is over-exploitation of groundwater. From 2000 to 2019, glaciers lost a net loss of 267 billion tons of ice per year.
Looking at these tipping points, continued CO2 emissions are leading to increased risks in many areas, so addressing this will logically reduce risks in many areas. .
Dr. Jack O’Connor, Senior Expert, United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security
The glacier’s “peak water” (the point at which the glacier melts and releases the greatest amount of water from the glacier) has already passed through the Andes, leaving communities with an unreliable source of water for drinking and irrigation. It has been. Many small glaciers in central Europe, western Canada and South America are expected to reach peak water levels within the next decade, the report said.
Meanwhile, heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense. Over the past 20 years, extreme heat has been responsible for an average of 500,000 excess deaths per year. This has a disproportionate impact on those who are particularly vulnerable due to their age, health or occupation.
The critical point at which the human body is no longer viable is when the “wet bulb temperature” is 35°C for more than 6 hours. This measurement combines temperature and humidity, which is important because high humidity prevents the evaporation of sweat needed to maintain a stable core body temperature.
In the Persian Gulf and the Indus River basin, wet-bulb temperatures can already exceed the threshold for human survival, researchers warn. By 2070, parts of South Asia and the Middle East are projected to regularly exceed this. The report says that by 2100, more than 70 percent of the world’s population could be exposed to deadly weather conditions for at least 20 days a year.
Events this year confirm these findings. Record heatwaves in the southwestern United States, Mexico, southern Europe and China have led to increased heat-related hospitalizations and multiple deaths. In July, more than 200 people died this way in Mexico, and authorities issued heat warnings for large parts of the populations of Italy and Spain, as well as more than 100 million people in the southern United States.
Not covered by insurance
The researchers also outline how adaptation to severe weather becomes harder as places and activities become uninsurable. In areas where extreme weather events are already common, insurance premiums have increased by 57% since 2015. Some insurance companies are limiting the amount or types of losses they can cover, canceling policies, or withdrawing from the market altogether.
This trend reaches a tipping point when insurance becomes unaffordable or unavailable, leaving people without a financial safety net when disaster strikes. This will increase the socio-economic impact, especially for those who have the greatest difficulty moving to safe areas.
Extinction is also at risk of a tipping point, the report warns. The disappearance of strongly connected species within a particular ecosystem can trigger a chain of extinctions of dependent species, ultimately leading to ecosystem collapse.
For example, sea otters help maintain the balance of Pacific kelp forests by eating sea urchins, but are at risk of extinction due to overhunting. If sea otters weren’t there to protect the kelp from sea urchins, more than 1,000 species of animals, including sharks, turtles and whales, would lose shelter, food and protection in these forests.
The report argues that society and governments currently fail to address the root causes of these problems with the necessary changes. Rather, action is being delayed by temporary solutions that merely delay, rather than halt, progress toward the tipping point.
For example, global warming has led to a significant increase in air conditioning installations around the world. The report’s lead author, Dr. Zita Sevesvari, points out that, not surprisingly, these cooling technologies also increase greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the world could reduce these emissions by using more efficient technologies, she says.
Sebesvary said the upcoming UN climate change talks at COP28 would be an opportunity to address this issue. The UAE Presidency and the United Nations Environment Program are promoting a pledge to reduce air-conditioning emissions that they hope governments will sign up to.
Dr Jack O’Connor, lead author and senior expert at UNU EHS, says the issues raised in ‘Interrelated Disaster Risks’ are highly relevant to COP28. Risks occur in different areas, so addressing this will logically reduce risk in different areas. ”