When Will Your City Reach the Point of No Return From Irreversible Climate Change?

Climate change will soon get “up close and personal” for millions worldwide. Ironically, the first places affected will be countries which are the least equipped to deal with it and the least responsible for causing it.

The disturbing prediction that we are staring down the barrel of an “entirely new climate“ comes from a new study published in the journal Nature. Researchers from the University of Hawaii say that within 30 or so years, if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will face an unprecedented and irreversible climate change tipping point.

Our backs are well and truly against the wall, folks.

To put it bluntly, after the year 2047, the coldest year America will ever have will be warmer than the hottest year we ever had in the past. Or, to state it another way, for any average location on the planet, the mean annual climate will go beyond the most extreme temperatures it has so far experienced in the past 150 years — and will never slip back down.

“The results shocked us: regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said Dr. Camilo Mora, University of Hawaii professor and lead author of the study. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”

The global mean average tipping point happens in 2047.

Researchers studied two scenarios. The first assumed worldwide “business as usual” regarding greenhouse gas emissions. The second, more optimistic scenario assumed we will find a way to stabilize emissions at current levels. The bad news is that even if we’re able to achieve stabilization, this climate shift will only be delayed by perhaps 20 additional years.

Rocketing Toward a Permanent Shift Beyond Historic Temperature Bounds

Analyzing temperatures recorded from 1860 to 2005, researchers used 39 independently developed climate models from 12 different countries and looked at temperature projections for the next 100 years. This combination of information enabled them to forecast the year when temperatures at any specific spot on earth will shift permanently to a point outside their historic bounds. They called this point the year of “climate departure.”

The world’s oceans already passed their tipping point in 2008, says the study.

Tropical locations, not the earth’s poles, will feel the effects of this shift first. Alarmingly, they’ll be hit 10 to 15 years earlier than the rest of us. This will happen, say researchers, because of “small but rapid changes” that tropical ecosystems and species aren’t used to. The tropics, which are home to the world’s areas of greatest biodiversity, don’t roll with the punches as well as other areas, unfortunately.

Of all places on Earth, Indonesia will face its point of no return first, in 2020. Yes, 2020. Some people have car loans that won’t be paid off by then. After the tropics, cities around the globe will reach climate departure tipping points roughly as follows:

  • 2029 – Jakarta, Lagos
  • 2031 – Mexico City
  • 2033 – Bogota
  • 2034 – Mumbai
  • 2036 – Cairo, Baghdad, Nairobi
  • 2041 – Tokyo
  • 2042 – Perth
  • 2043 – Honolulu, Santiago, Pretoria
  • 2044 – Rome
  • 2046 – Beijing, Bangkok, Orlando
  • 2047 – Washington DC, New York City
  • 2048 – Los Angeles, Denver
  • 2049 – San Francisco
  • 2050 – Rio de Janeiro
  • 2055 – Seattle
  • 2056 – London
  • 2063 – Moscow
  • 2066 – Reykjavik
  • 2071 – Anchorage

Interested in seeing the data for where you live? The study’s creators have posted a clickable map here.

Ill-Prepared Developing Countries Will Be Hit First

By the year 2050, over a billion people in developing countries can expect to be significantly affected. According to the study’s findings, ”The fact that the earliest climate departures occur in low-income countries further highlights an obvious disparity between those who benefit economically from the processes leading to climate change and those who will have to pay for most of the environmental and social costs.”

The sheer number of those affected in these countries means we must begin to worry about the supply of food and water, effects on human physical and mental health, the spread of disease, heat stress, conflict for resources and economic instability.

“Our results suggest that countries first impacted by unprecedented climates are the ones with the least capacity to respond,” study co-author Ryan Longman said. “Ironically, these are the countries that are least responsible for climate change in the first place.” The authors of this study urge funding for social and conservation programs in developing countries to help them minimize these approaching climate change effects.

Assuming this climate departure happens as predicted, Dr. Mora’s team says it leaves all creatures with three options: migrate to more habitable places, adapt or die.  That advice goes for people, too.

Act Now to Reduce Emissions or Forever Regret It

It sounds like extreme change is coming, regardless of what we do. Why should be bother doing anything? The answer is simple. We urgently need to do what we can — now — because it might mean the difference between survival or extinction for ecosystems and species.

“These results should not be reason to give up,” said Dr. Mora. ”Rather, they should encourage us to reduce emissions and slow the rate of climate change. This can buy time for species, ecosystems, and ourselves to adapt to the coming changes.”

Developing countries need the help of the United States and all other “developed” countries to stem this tide. Reducing our own emissions will go a long, long way. We can still slow this thing down enough to help species and ecosystems survive it. Will we heed these warnings and do something?

Above all, say the researchers, we must hurry.

Related Stories:

Animal Traffic Jams a Likely Result of Climate Change

Climate Change Could Endanger More Animals Than We Thought

Can a National Strategy Help Wildlife Adapt to Climate Change?

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing

Donna Ferguson
Donna F4 years ago

this is very frightening

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


raya ENGLER4 years ago

I watched a documentary on TV last night about a number of civilizations that were wiped out due to famine. They concentrated their study to what is now desert in the middle east.
Photos taken from space, show there was a river about as large as the Nile and had an extensive conglomeration of buildings housing about 10 to 15 thousand people. The area became too hot to grow crops and the river dried up. it was later covered up with several feet of sand.

In those days we had no gas emissions, coal, fracking, plastic outgassing, escaping air-conditioning gasses, etc. etc. But the climate changed anyway.

We are not experiencing climate change because of our doing, this has happened many times in history, so whether we humans are here or not - the climate will change from hot to cold and back again regardless.

If you want to keep the earth pristine because we want a pristine world, well then that's another story and one worth striving for. Just don't use global changes on our inability to keep the world the temperature we are used to since we were born. Life changes. We just get stupider.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld4 years ago

There were some scientists predicting catastrophe (usually centuries into the future), because they felt that the incremental warming experienced recently would not garner enough attention. Due to the backlash against these predistions (and the uncretaintly predicting centuries into the future), many of these scientists are returning to the more moderate predictions for the next few decades. I do not k now how this affected grant money.

Unless one was a government employee sent home, most Americans did not feel the effects of the government shutdown - it was simply too short to have any meaningful effect. Most of this country has felt the effects of global warming, from milder winters to greater rainfall to longer growing seasons. The overall effects have been relatively minor to date. Since global warming had precious little to do with hurrican Sandy, neither supporters nor detractors probably felt any effects.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret G4 years ago

Some climate change deniers claim that the scientists are predicting catastrophe so that the scientists can get millions in research grants. I believe that the fossil fuel industry has even greater reason to lie, to protect their billions in profits.

And those who say that they don't feel the effects of climate change are probably like those Republicans who said that they felt no problems when the United States government shut down. And I wonder if any of the climate change deniers felt up close and personal what Hurricane Sandy handed out.

Keith McNeill
Keith McNeill4 years ago

I has just finished reading The Case for a Carbon Tax: Getting Past our Hang-ups to Effective Climate Policy by Shi-Ling Hsu.The author was a professor at the UBC Faculty of Law when he wrote the book. He presently is a professor at Florida State University.

In the book, Dr. Hsu compares four different mechanisms to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide our civilization is putting into the atmosphere and concludes that a carbon tax is best.

Command and control means setting some maximum amount of pollution that a factory or some other polluter can produce. Any amount above that maximum is penalized. These maximums are generally somewhat arbitrarily based on the abatement technology available at the time. Once in place there is no incentive reduce emissions below the maximum. Compliance involves constant monitoring and litigation.

Although there are variations, cap and trade is in some ways similar to command and control in that maximum amounts of pollution are set for each polluter. Those that produce less than their maximum can then trade that amount to polluters who are above their maximum.
Theoretically, cap and trade works well. In reality, however, experience has shown that it's too easy to cheat. Hsu gives as an example refrigerant plants in China that make more money through carbon credits than they do from the actual product they sell.
The Kyoto Protocol is based largely on cap and trade, which is one reason why it has not been working.

Government subsidie

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

We have to take action to reduce our carbon output and prepare to help nations that will be affected first. The time for arguing has past. It's time to act and demand action on the part of our governments around the globe. Thank you for the information. It's crucial that we act now before it's too late. (p, t)

Frans Badenhorst
Frans Badenhorst4 years ago

interesting Susan............we really did muck it up hey.....

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

It's already happening but no-one (especially governments worldwide) is listening.