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The world is on the brink of entering a potentially fatal phase of climate change, according to new research.
The Earth is just 1-degree Celsius from entering the so-called 'Hothouse Earth' state that would pose 'severe risks for health, economies, political stability, and ultimately, the habitability of the planet for humans', according to an international pool of climate scientists (via Sky News).
Should the world enter this hothouse state, it would become a tipping point from which the climate would not be able to return, leading to uncontrolled, irreversible changes that would cause devastation to human populations.
"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes," said University of Stockholm professor Johan Rockstrom.
"Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another.
"It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if Hothouse Earth becomes the reality."
Such a rise would cause areas with permafrost to thaw, creating sea level rises, while methane on the ocean floor may be released with ocean and land carbon sinks weakening.
More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to ice sheets melting in the Arctic and Antarctic, forests dying in the Amazon and snow melting in the Northern Hemisphere.
"Our analysis suggests that the Earth system may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions - Hothouse Earth," reads the study.
"This pathway would be propelled by strong, intrinsic, biogeophysical feedbacks difficult to influence by human actions, a pathway that could not be reversed, steered or substantially slowed.
"Where such a threshold might be is uncertain, but it could be only decades ahead at a temperature rise of (around) 2C above pre-industrial."
The study says that the Earth would eventually stabilise at four to five degrees higher than the current average temperature.
The only way to reverse the current process is to drastically cut carbon emissions, says the lead author of the study.
"Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth," wrote Will Steffen, a researcher at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
"Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called 'feedbacks', that can drive further warming - even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.
"Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the Earth system."
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