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Tipping points of risk pose new threats

Risk tipping points are becoming an increasing challenge worldwide according to a new report by the United Nations University - Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS).

Published in October 2023, the new research report The Interconnected Disaster Risks report 2023 finds that the world is fast approaching risk tipping points on multiple fronts. The report says tipping points are reached when the systems we rely on stop functioning as designed, amplifying the risk of catastrophic impacts.

The report says by indiscriminately extracting water resources, damaging nature and biodiversity, polluting both Earth and space while cutting down options to deal with disasters, human actions introduce new risks and amplifying existing ones.

UNU-EHS deputy director and lead author of the study Dr Zita Sebesvari said, “With these risk tipping points, it is as though we are approaching a cliff that we cannot see clearly ahead of us, and once we fall off the cliff, we can’t easily go back.”

The report analyses six interconnected risk tipping points, which have been selected for their representation of large global issues that impact lives across the world they are:

-Accelerating extinctions that trigger chain reaction to ecosystem collapse

-Groundwater depletion that drains water risking food supply

-Mountain glaciers melting

-Space debris causing loss of multiple satellites

-Unbearable heat making it hard to live in some areas

-Uninsurable future when rising risks make homes unaffordable

The impacts can also cascade through to other systems and places around the world, the report warns. It says if risk tipping points are understood, informed decisions and decisive actions to avert the worst are possible.

Dr Sebesvari said, “Due to the interconnected nature of these risk tipping points, their drivers, root causes and influences, avoiding them will require more than a single solution. We will need to develop solutions that bring together different sectors and address the drivers and root causes in a systemic way.”

The report offers a new framework that categorizes risk mitigation solutions into four types based on their approach: Avoid (preventing risk), Adapt (dealing with risk), Delay (slowing risk progression), and Transform (system overhaul). This framework aids in evaluating a solution's potential outcomes and trade-offs. Identifying a solution's category helps evaluate potential outcomes and trade-offs.



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