The world's diverse regions and ecosystems are close to reaching temperature thresholds – or ''tipping points'' – that can unleash devastating environmental, social and economic changes, according to a new report by WWF and European financial services giant Allianz.
Often global warming is seen as a process similar to a steady flow of water in our bathrooms and kitchens, where temperature goes up gradually, controlled by a turn of the tap.
But the report, Major Tipping Points in the Earth's Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector, documents that changes related to global warming are likely to be much more abrupt and unpredictable – and they could create huge social and environmental problems and cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars.
Without immediate climate action, sea level rise on the East Coast of the USA, the shift to an arid climate in California, disturbances of the Indian Summer Monsoon in India and Nepal or the dieback of the Amazon rainforest due to increasing drought, are likely to affect hundreds millions of people and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
The study explores impacts of these ''tipping points'', including their economic consequences and implications for the insurance sector. It also shows how close the world is to reaching ''tipping points'' in many regions of the world, or how close we are to tipping the scales toward disaster.
''If we don't take immediate action against climate change, we are in grave danger of disruptive and devastating changes,'' said Kim Carstensen, the Head of WWF Global Climate Initiative. ''Reaching a tipping point means losing something forever. This must be a strong argument for world leaders to agree a strong and binding climate deal in Copenhagen in December.''