In recent decades, scientists have begun to use the term “tipping points” to describe large-scale and abrupt shifts to big earth systems—the Arctic changing from having year-round sea ice to having none in the summer, or vast areas of the Amazon rainforest becoming savanna—following a buildup of pressure on the system.
These big earth systems that could suddenly shift from one state to another in a warming world are also called “sleeping giants”. At present, they quietly promote a stable climate by removing carbon dioxide, generating rain and supporting the livelihoods of millions of people, but if they were to shift, they would have “large scale impacts on the global climate by becoming large-scale emitters of carbon dioxide, as opposed to storing carbon in soil and vegetation,” according to the report. Although this is still an active area of research, “there is a broad consensus that the further and faster the Earth System is pushed into a warmer state, the greater the risk of surprises.” There is also the risk of creating a domino effect, where crossing one tipping point pushes the world closer to another.
The Sleeping Financial Giants report is the result of a scientific project which aims to increase awareness among the public and investors alike, about the impact of the investment sector on key tipping points in the Earth System affecting our global climate.
Forest ecosystems, such as the Amazon rainforest and boreal forests, are particularly good targets for the investment sector, because the probability of these systems shifting from large-scale absorption of carbon to large scale carbon release is not only dependent on climate—it also depends critically on how we manage these systems. And this management is determined, in large part, by the actions of a relatively small number of companies, many of which are public.
According to the new report, “The implications for the global climate if these regions ‘tip’ raise new and urgent concerns that are of critical importance for the financial sector and humanity at large.”
The report provides a short state-of-the-art review of the scientific knowledge around tipping points in the Earth System, and explains the complex interactions between large global investors and such tipping points to help make informed decisions about the future of our planet.
The launch in New York featured centre researcher and executive director of the GEDB programme Beatrice Crona together with Victor Galaz, also a lead author on the Sleeping Financial Giants report, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and former Deputy Vice Minister of Finance of Japan. Moderator was Josh Tewksbury, Colorado Global Hub Director, Future Earth.
According to the report's Executive Summary:
“Finance cannot be made single-handedly responsible for a transition to climate sustainability, but it can and must play a critically important role. By taking responsibility and using power and leadership for the good of the planet and their portfolio, financial actors could contribute meaningfully to an emerging and necessary pathway towards biosphere stewardship and climate stability. Yet time is short – financial actors, and humanity at large, need to wake up and recognize the new and urgent challenges posed by nonlinear dynamics in the Earth System.”
More information available at http://sleepinggiants.earth/.