The Costs of A Warming Arctic – Maybe as Much as the 2012 World Economy

The global impacts of a warming Arctic could carry a price tag comparable to the size of the global economy in 2012, say Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams in a Comment in last week’s Nature.

Most discussions about the economic implications of a warming Arctic focus on benefits to the region, with increased oil-and-gas drilling and the opening up of new shipping routes that attract investments of hundreds of billions of dollars. However, the effects of melting permafrost on the climate and oceans will be felt globally.

Applying an updated version of the modelling method used in the UK government’s 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the authors calculate the average global economic consequences of the release of 50 gigatonnes of methane over one decade from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea. In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, they estimate that the methane event alone would cost $60 trillion in mean global climate impacts — a figure that approaches the $70-trillion value of the world economy in 2012. If other impacts such as ocean acidification are factored in, the cost would be much higher. Some 80% of these costs will be borne by developing countries, as they experience more extreme weather, flooding, droughts and poorer health, as Arctic warming affects climate.

The authors argue that economic discussions today are missing the big picture on Arctic change. They call for the World Economic Forum to invest in the further modelling needed to assess the true costs of Arctic change and to encourage world leaders to “consider the economic time bomb beyond short-term gains from shipping and extraction”.

Article appearing courtesy Celsias.

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