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Methane gas from thawing Arctic permafrost a 'threat' to global economy

The release of large amounts of methane gas from thawing Arctic permafrost could devastate the global economy, according to European scientists.

The scientists, from Britain's University of Cambridge and Erasmus University in the Netherlands, have put a price on the melt — $60 trillion over the coming decades.

Their findings were published in the journal Nature. The report said that unlike such issues like starving polar bears and population booms, the economic impacts of a warming Arctic had been ignored.

Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at Erasmus University, said:

"The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb."

Her team used economic modeling to calculate the consequences of a release of a 50-gigaton reservoir of methane from thawing permafrost under the East Siberian Sea.

Permafrost, or soil below the freezing point, Australia's ABC wrote, has been thawing under rising global temperatures for many years, releasing the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

The release of 50-gigatons of methane over a decade would result in flooding, sea-level rise, agriculture damage and health impacts that would cost humanity dearly in monetary terms, the report said.

"We calculate that the costs of a melting Arctic will be huge, because the region is pivotal to the functioning of Earth systems such as oceans and the climate. The release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea, off northern Russia, alone comes with an average global price tag of $60 trillion in the absence of mitigating action — a figure comparable to the size of the world economy in 2012 (about $70 trillion). The total cost of Arctic change will be much higher."

That cost did not factor in an acceleration of sea-ice retreat, were trapped methane to break the sea surface and escape into the atmosphere.

Scientists have said the rise in global average temperatures this century needed to stay below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent crop failure, melting glaciers and other devastating consequences.

However, the International Energy Agency, citing record high global carbon dioxide emissions last year, warned last month that the world is on course for a rise of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius, the Associated Press reported.