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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Feb 4;117(5):2354-2365. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1900577117. Epub 2020 Jan 21.

Social tipping dynamics for stabilizing Earth's climate by 2050.

Author information

Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Member of the Leibniz Association, 14473 Potsdam, Germany;
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, 11419 Stockholm, Sweden.
Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), 20095 Hamburg, Germany.
Risk and Environmental Studies, Karlstad University, SE 651 88 Karlstad, Sweden.
Information and Computational Sciences Group, James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, Scotland, United Kingdom.
Observatorio para una Cultura del Territorio, 28012 Madrid, Spain.
Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Member of the Leibniz Association, 14473 Potsdam, Germany.
Department of Geography, Humboldt University, 10099 Berlin, Germany.
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems, Humboldt University, 10099 Berlin, Germany.
Department of Geography, University of Innsbruck, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria.
UN Climate Change community for Education, Communication and Outreach Stakeholders (ECOS), 3046 Kisbágyon, Hungary.
GeoSustainability Consulting, Adabraka-Accra, Ghana.
Department of Philosophy, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3350.
Germinando Sociedad Cooperativa Madrid, 28012 Madrid, Spain.
Foro de Transiciones, 28011 Madrid, Spain.
Climate, Air and Energy, PBL Netherlands Environmental Agency, 2594 AV Den Haag, The Netherlands.
Copernicus Institute, Utrecht University, 3584 CB Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Department of Earth System Science, School of Science, Tsinghua University, Haidian District, Beijing 100084, People's Republic of China.


Safely achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement requires a worldwide transformation to carbon-neutral societies within the next 30 y. Accelerated technological progress and policy implementations are required to deliver emissions reductions at rates sufficiently fast to avoid crossing dangerous tipping points in the Earth's climate system. Here, we discuss and evaluate the potential of social tipping interventions (STIs) that can activate contagious processes of rapidly spreading technologies, behaviors, social norms, and structural reorganization within their functional domains that we refer to as social tipping elements (STEs). STEs are subdomains of the planetary socioeconomic system where the required disruptive change may take place and lead to a sufficiently fast reduction in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The results are based on online expert elicitation, a subsequent expert workshop, and a literature review. The STIs that could trigger the tipping of STE subsystems include 1) removing fossil-fuel subsidies and incentivizing decentralized energy generation (STE1, energy production and storage systems), 2) building carbon-neutral cities (STE2, human settlements), 3) divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels (STE3, financial markets), 4) revealing the moral implications of fossil fuels (STE4, norms and value systems), 5) strengthening climate education and engagement (STE5, education system), and 6) disclosing information on greenhouse gas emissions (STE6, information feedbacks). Our research reveals important areas of focus for larger-scale empirical and modeling efforts to better understand the potentials of harnessing social tipping dynamics for climate change mitigation.


Paris Agreement; climate change; decarbonization; social tipping elements; social tipping interventions

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