The United Nations University is sounding alarm bells about six critical tipping points with potentially irreversible consequences. 

These interconnected risks include accelerating extinctions, groundwater depletion, mountain glaciers melting, space debris, unbearable heat, and an uninsurable future. 

The report highlights that in Australia, approximately 520,940 homes are predicted to be uninsurable by 2030, largely due to increasing flood risk, posing severe economic and social challenges in high-risk areas.

The report not only defines these tipping points but also offers a framework for addressing them, focusing on avoidance and adaptation solutions.

Groundwater depletion is one of the identified risk tipping points. 

More than half of the world's major aquifers are being depleted faster than they can naturally replenish, jeopardising water resources for over 2 billion people. 

As the water table falls, existing wells may become unusable, putting food production systems at risk. Countries like Saudi Arabia have already crossed this tipping point, while others, like India, are on the brink. The report warns of the far-reaching impacts on food systems, economies, and society.

Mountain glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, leading to the risk of “peak water”, the point where a glacier produces the maximum water runoff due to melting. 

Once this point is reached, freshwater availability declines. Many small glaciers in Central Europe, Western Canada, and South America have already reached peak water, causing water scarcity for communities. The Himalayas, Karakorum, and Hindu Kush mountains, with almost 870 million people relying on them, are also at risk of reaching this tipping point.

Intense human activities – including land use change, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and introduction of invasive alien species – have created a rate of species extinction at least 10 to 100 times Earth’s natural rate.

Ecosystems are built on intricate connections between species. If one species goes extinct, it can have knock-on effects on many others. 

The risk tipping point in this context is when an ecosystem loses key species that are strongly connected, triggering cascading extinctions of dependent species, which can eventually lead to the collapse of an entire ecosystem.

Space debris is accumulating in Earth's orbit, posing a risk of collisions that could set off a chain reaction. 

Out of over 34,000 objects in orbit, only around 25 per cent are functional satellites, and the rest are nonfunctional satellites or discarded rocket stages. This debris travels at high speeds and can cause significant damage. 

The report warns that the Earth's orbit could become unusable if a collision chain reaction occurs. With over 100,000 new spacecraft set to be launched into orbit by 2030, the risk of this tipping point is increasing.

Human-induced climate change is causing global temperatures to rise, leading to more frequent and intense heatwaves. 

These heatwaves are causing excess deaths, especially among vulnerable populations. 

The tipping point is a ‘wet-bulb temperature’ above 35°C, where high humidity worsens heat effects. Some regions have already crossed this threshold, with more areas expected to follow. The report emphasises the need for transformative solutions to address climate change.

Increasing extreme weather events have led to rising economic losses and challenges for the insurance industry. 

Premiums have surged, and some insurance companies are limiting coverage or leaving the market. It is now predicted that over half a million Australian homes will be uninsurable by 2030 due to increasing flood risk. 

This risk tipping point is reached when insurance becomes unavailable or unaffordable, leaving vulnerable populations without a safety net during disasters, with significant socioeconomic consequences.

The report underscores the urgency of addressing these tipping points and the need for transformative actions to avoid catastrophic outcomes. 

More details are accessible here.