Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth’s climate by 2050

Paper by Ilona M. Otto et al: “…In this paper, we examine a number of potential “social tipping elements” (STEs) for decarbonization that represent specific subdomains of the planetary social-economic system. Tipping of these subsystems could be triggered by “social tipping interventions” (STIs) that could contribute to rapid transition of the world system into a state of net zero anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results reported in this study are based on an online expert survey, an expert workshop, and an extensive literature review (SI Appendix).

Our results complement the existing shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) that are used alongside the representative concentration pathways (RCPs) to analyze the feedbacks between climate change and socioeconomic factors, such as world population growth, economic development, and technological progress. Our results could be useful for exploring possible transformative pathways leading to scenarios that reach net zero emissions by 2050.

…Various types of tipping processes can be differentiated in the literature. Many authors refer to critical thresholds , a notion closely related to the metaphor of a “butterfly effect”. Other processes related to tipping dynamics include metamorphosis, where a rapid loss of structures of one sort occurs simultaneously with the development of new structures, as well as cascades driven by positive feedbacks in processes occurring simultaneously at smaller scales.

The social tipping dynamics of interest for this study are typically manifested as spreading processes in complex social networks of behaviors, opinions, knowledge, technologies, and social norms, including spreading processes of structural change and reorganization. These spreading processes resemble contagious dynamics observed in epidemiology that spread through social networks. Once triggered, such processes can be irreversible and difficult to stop. Similar contagious dynamics have been observed in human behavior, for example in assaultive violence, participation in social movements, or health-related behaviors and traits, such as smoking or obesity..(More)”.