A new review of literature on global climate change written by an international team of more than 200 researchers leaves no room for doubt: humanity is heading for disaster, unless significant steps are taken to change that course.

How disastrous? The research team mentions trillions of US dollars in climate-related damage, billions of people pushed into hardship around the world, and millions of lives lost as a result of a rapidly warming planet.

The report focuses specifically on tipping points – sudden, large scale shifts in ecological conditions caused by a culmination of smaller environmental changes. Those cataclysmic shifts include the widespread destruction of coral reefs and the collapse of the biggest ice sheets, each of which would in turn lead to even greater widespread disruption.

The report identifies a number of interactions between major tipping elements around the globe, finding the majority of which exert a destabilizing influence. Some ecosystems on the verge of significant change, like Greenland's ice sheets, have such low thresholds for tipping, they could be considered instigators of chains of effects that ripple around the globe, sending other systems crashing.

"Our research shows that in the past, even small natural changes in greenhouse gas concentrations had a domino effect changing different parts of our planet, from sea level to entire ecosystems," says Earth scientist Caroline Lear, from Cardiff University in the UK.

"Without more significant climate action we expect to see a similar domino effect from the much faster changes in greenhouse gas concentrations caused by burning fossil fuels."

The researchers warn of a catastrophic loss of crop-growing capacity with up to half the global area for growing wheat and maize potentially lost, putting the "stability of our societies" under threat. These processes are already well underway, with more than 27 million children driven into hunger by extreme weather in 2022 alone.

Our fate isn't completely sealed though. The researchers are calling for coordinated, global policy efforts to limit negative tipping points and promote a more sustainable approach to life on Earth, one that could generate its own series of social tipping points that create more robust ecosystems.

Fossil fuels should be phased out well before 2050, for example, the report says, with incentives put in place to continue to develop infastructure for renewables.

"Not all tipping points are bad," says Earth scientist Stephen Barker, from Cardiff University. "If we make wise decisions now, they could help to steer us in the right direction."

"For example, creating national strategies on solar power generation and storage will encourage investment to increase capacity and ultimately bring down costs, leading to more renewables."

This is only the latest in a long series of warnings from scientists that climate change is going to significantly alter life on planet Earth. Despite this dire outlook, greenhouse gas emissions are still at an all-time high.

Business as usual "is now over", the report says. If we're going to avoid being overwhelmed and stop the natural world from coming apart, real and meaningful action needs to be taken – action that the researchers think humanity is capable of.

"This report contains a message of hope," says Lear.

"Climate friendly and fair policies could start a chain of events that help us avert the worst impacts of climate change while helping societies across the planet."

You can find the Global Tipping Points Report available in full online, and parts of it have been published in Earth System Dynamics.