Feedback Effects

From Open Risk Manual


Feedback Effects (also Feedback Loops) denote non-linear phenomena where the result of changes in one component of the system impact other components which in turn impact the original component.

Feedback loops can be either stabilizing or destabilizing of a system, depending on the sign of the component interactions. Stabilizing feedbacks (termed negative feedbacks in the systems literature) occur when two components of a system have opposite effects on one another. Amplifying feedbacks (termed positive feedbacks in the systems literature) in ecosystems in which both components of a system have a positive effect on one other, or both have a negative effect on one another.[1]


Climate feedback loops happen when one change in the climate triggers further changes, in a chain reaction that reinforces itself as time goes on. Ultimately, feedback loops can trigger tipping points, at which point the changes to our planet’s climate systems become severe and irreversible.[2]

Currently, scientists are aware of some serious feedback loops that are driving global warming. For example

  • as sea ice in the Arctic melts, more heat is being absorbed by the darker ocean waters, thus speeding up the warming process and leading to more ice melting
  • as wildfires burn down forests, they release greenhouse gases leading to more warming and more wildfires
  • Other feedback loops include the thawing of the permafrost, forest dieback, and insect outbreaks.

Futher Resources


  1. F. Stuart Chapin, III, Pamela A. Matson, Peter M. Vitousek Principles of Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology
  2. The Climate Dictionary, UNDP, 2023