As proceedings got under way at COP28 this week, major media outlets trumpeted a report released at the climate conference carrying a solemn warning that in an ideal world would have added impetus to negotiations, but in all likelihood won't. 
The report, published by Global Tipping Points (GTP), a multinational organisation supported by more than 200 researchers from almost 100 organisations in 26 countries, has warned that current global warming levels risk the world crossing five major “tipping points” that could lead to irreversible effects on natural systems. 
The GTP report says it has identified 26 natural phenomena that are in danger of sudden and irreversible change due to climate change, including ice sheets, rainforests, glaciers, ocean currents and coral reefs, all of which have serious negative implications for human lives and livelihoods.  
Researchers found that “the mass death of warm-water coral reefs is likely at current levels of warming, while four other processes – the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, disruption of the North Atlantic subpolar gyre circulation (rotating ocean currents), and abrupt thawing of permafrost regions was possible.” 

The implications are serious, because unlike other symptoms of global warming such as extreme weather events, which take place over longer periods of time, these processes can suddenly “flip” from one state to something else. As the report notes, “when a climatic system tips, sometimes with a sudden shock, it may permanently alter the way the planet works.” 

Professor Tim Lenton, from the Exeter Global Systems Institute in the United Kingdom, and the lead author of the report, told a press conference that it was a “tale of two future paths for humanity”. “We’ve basically left it too late for incremental action,” he told reporters. “Instead, we need to find and trigger what we’re calling some positive tipping points that accelerate action down an alternative pathway.” 

Lenton’s vision of the irreversible damage that climactic tipping points can cause verge on the apocalyptic. “They can trigger devastating domino effects, including the loss of whole ecosystems and capacity to grow staple crops,” he said, “with societal impacts including mass displacement, political instability and financial collapse.”  

However, his comments are very much in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (2023), which “summarises the state of knowledge of climate change, its widespread impacts and risks, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, based on the peer-reviewed scientific, technical and socio-economic literature since the publication of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2014.” 

This year’s IPCC report notes that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over 2010-2019, with “unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and between individuals.” 

Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe, the report said, adding that this had led to “widespread adverse impacts on food and water security”. The report also reiterates what we in the Global South are already fully cognisant of, namely that vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected. 

The contents of both reports cited must not be lost in the noise of COP28 but reiterated loud and clear, particularly as participants, including a record number of stakeholders from the coal, oil and gas industries, waste precious time haggling over how to reduce emissions while dragging their heels over commitment to phasing out fossil fuels.  

Finally, on a lighter note, this is the final Africa in Fact newsletter for 2023. We wish all our readers a happy and fulfilling festive season and look forward to engaging with you in 2024! 

Susan Russell
Editor, Africa in Fact

Hunger in Africa, a sober reality

By Mischka Moosa

According to UNICEF’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report this year, global hunger remained relatively unchanged between...

Regreening efforts in the Sahel offer hope of a better future
By Michael Schmidt

At the entrance to the dusty town of el-Fashir in North Darfur, there is a sun-faded sign that reads...

Benin aims to eliminate water insecurity for all by 2025
By Mamah Djiman Hairith

Since 2016, the authorities in Benin have undertaken various initiatives to provide the...

Leverage the AfCFTA to advance food and water sovereignty
By Adio-Adet Dinika

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent promise of free grain to six African countries and... 


Useful Links


© 2023 Africa In Fact. All Rights Reserved.