A release of methane in the Arctic could speed the melting of sea ice and climate change with a cost to the global economy of up to $60 trillion over coming decades, according to a paper published in the journal Nature.
Researchers have warned of an ”economic time-bomb” in the Arctic, following a ground-breaking analysis of the likely cost of methane emissions in the region.
The impacts are most likely to be felt in developing countries they say, who could experience more extreme weather, flooding, droughts and poorer health.
Scientists have had concerns about the impact of rising temperatures on permafrost for many years. Large amounts of methane are concentrated in the frozen Arctic tundra but are also found as semi-solid gas hydrates under the sea.
Researchers believe that the release of even a small proportion of the Arctic reserves could trigger possible catastrophic climate change.
Scientists have said the rise in global average temperatures this century needs to stay below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent devastating climate effects such as crop failure and melting glaciers.
However, the International Energy Agency warned last month that the world is on course for a rise of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius citing record high global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year.
The ground-breaking Comment piece was co-authored by Gail Whiteman, from Erasmus University; Chris Hope, Reader in Policy Modeling at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge; and Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean physics at the University of Cambridge.
Researchers have attempted to put an economic price on the climate damage that these emissions of methane could cause. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, even though it lasts less than a decade in the atmosphere.
Some scientists have cautioned that not enough is known about the likelihood of such a rapid release of methane. Even though it has been detected for a number of years, it has as yet not been found in the atmosphere in large amounts.
Professor Wadhams says the evidence is growing.
According to Whiteman, “Global leaders need to pay much more attention to this invisible time-bomb. The mean impacts of just this one effect--$60 trillion—approaches the $70 trillion value of the world economy in 2012”
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