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World on brink of environmental tipping points, UN says

Singapore: Theworldis heading towards a seriesofenvironmental”tippingpoints” that could cause irreversible damage to water supplies and other life-sustaining systems, the research armofthe United Nations warnedonWednesday.

Climate change and the overuseofresources have put theworldonthebrinkofsix interconnectedtippingpointsthat “could trigger abrupt changes in our life-sustaining systems and shake the foundationofsocieties,” theUNUniversity’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) said.

“Once these thresholds are passed, the system fails to function as it normally would, and you get new risks cascading out, and these new risks can transfer to other systems,” said UNU-EHS researcher Jack O’Connor, lead authorofthe report.

“We should be expecting these things to happen because in certain areas they are happening already.”

The Interconnected Disaster Risks report, published aheadofCOP28 climate talks next month, identified accelerating ratesofextinction, groundwater depletion, glacial melt and extreme heat as the major interconnected threats.

It warned that 1 million plants and animals could be wiped out “within decades”, with the lossofkey species to “trigger cascading extinctionsofdependent species” and raise the likelihoodofecosystem collapse.

Manyoftheworld’s biggest aquifers are already depleting faster than they can be replenished, with Saudi Arabia, India and the United States already facing grave risks. Run-offs from glacial melt are also set to decline.

“Heat is causing us to extract moreofthat groundwater becauseofdrought,” said Caitlyn Eberle, another lead author. “Manyofthose glaciers in the Rocky Mountains, the Himalayas and the Andes feed into these rivers and groundwater systems, so as those glaciers disappear there is less water available.”

The researchers also warnedofthe growing risks posed by space debris, with collisions set to render the earth’s orbit “unusable” and make future space activity – including satellite monitoringofenvironmentalthreats – impossible.

In anothertippingpoint, worsening climate hazards are now making insurance unaffordable, with half a million homes in Australia alone set to be uninsurable by 2030, they said.

“Once thispointis passed, people are left without an economic safety net when disasters strike,” the report said.

(Published 25 October 2023, 11:00 IST)

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