Tipping point is the point at which a system is displaced from one state to another that is qualitatively dissimilar from the first.
A climate tipping point is a point when global climate changes from one stable state to another stable state, in a similar manner to a wine glass tipping over. After the tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs. The tipping event may be irreversible, comparable to wine spilling from the glass - standing up the glass will not put the wine back.
Tipping points are often linked to critical thresholds. For example, it is thought that a rise of 2°C in global average temperature or a CO2 concentration of 450 ppm would lead to the disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
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- Schneider S and Lane J (2006). Chapter 2 from Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, Cambridge University Press