4.5 Positive tipping cascades

Sibel Eker, Jürgen Scheffran, Timothy M. Lenton, Caroline Zimm, Steven R. Smith, Deepthi Swamy, Tom Powell

Sibel Eker, Jürgen Scheffran, Timothy M. Lenton, Caroline Zimm, Steven R. Smith, Deepthi Swamy, Tom Powell

Key messages

  • Cascading effects can occur across sociotechnical systems when one sector drives the cost of a shared technology down, or when the output of one sector provides a low cost input to others. Similar relationships exist across sociopolitical systems that amplify the impact of norm, behaviour and policy changes.
  • Super-leverage points can exist where interventions can tip multiple systems across multiple sectors in a domino effect. Public authorities and non-governmental agents can both play a role in triggering cascades through super-leverage points.  
  • Governmental positive tipping interventions for rapid climate and sustainability action can benefit from the indirect influence of policies on society, such as norm-setting. Non-governmental positive tipping interventions can harness the influence of social change on policy, indicated by climate litigation, green voting, discourse change and civic action. 
  • Cascade management requires all actors from governments to industry and civil society to adopt a systems thinking approach.


  • Government, business, finance and research sectors need a coordinated, ideally international, approach to designing and implementing strategies to activate super-leverage points.
    For example, to implement green ammonia blending mandates for fertiliser manufacturing could trigger a tipping point in demand for hydrogen electrolysers, which would reduce the production costs of green hydrogen, and thereby increase the economic viability of green hydrogen-based solutions in other sectors, including steel production and shipping


Cascading effects through cross-system interactions is one of the biggest promises of positive tipping points to create rapid climate and sustainability action. Several channels exist through which a strategic input can trigger secondary impacts for a disproportionately large positive response. We need to balance positive and negative feedback loops across systems for managing cascades. There are various agents that can trigger cascades. We need early warning systems and empirical evidence, either based on observational data or simulations, on interventions that can trigger cascades towards and beyond a positive tipping point.

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