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Contact: Tom Kirk
thomas.kirk@admin.cam.ac.uk
44-012-237-66205
University of Cambridge

Cost of Arctic methane release could be 'size of global economy' warn experts

Economic modelling shows that the methane emissions caused by shrinking sea ice from just one area of the Arctic could come with a global price tag of 60 trillion dollars -- the size of the world economy in 2012

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.

Writing in a Comment piece in the journal, Nature, academics argue that a significant release of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have dire implications for the world's economy. The researchers, from Cambridge and Rotterdam, have for the first time calculated the potential economic impact of a scenario some scientists consider increasingly likely that methane from the East Siberian Sea will be emitted as a result of the thaw.

This constitutes just a fraction of the vast reservoirs of methane in the Arctic, but scientists believe that the release of even a small proportion of these reserves could trigger possibly catastrophic climate change. According to the new assessment, the emission of methane below the East Siberian Sea alone would also have a mean global impact of 60 trillion dollars.

The ground-breaking Comment piece was co-authored by Gail Whiteman, from Erasmus University; Chris Hope, Reader in Policy Modelling at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge; and Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean physics at the University of Cambridge.

"The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb", Whiteman, who is Professor of sustainability, management and climate change at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), said.

Wadhams added: "The imminent disappearance of the summer sea ice in the Arctic will have enormous implications for both the acceleration of climate change, and the release of methane from off-shore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer. This massive methane boost will have major implications for global economies and societies."

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

Applying an updated version of the modelling method used in the UK government's 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, and currently used by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the authors calculate the global consequences of the release of 50 gigatonnes of methane over a decade from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea.

"The methane release would bring forward the date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2 degrees C by between 15 and 35 years," said Chris Hope. "In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the PAGE09 model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion."

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 research also explored the impact of a number of later, longer-lasting or smaller pulses of methane, and the authors write that, in all these cases, the economic cost for physical changes to the Arctic is "steep".

The authors write that global economic institutions and world leaders should "kick-start investment in rigorous economic modelling" and consider the impacts of a changing Arctic landscape as far outweighing any "short-term gains from shipping and extraction".

They argue that economic discussions today are missing the big picture on Arctic change. "Arctic science is a strategic asset for human economies because the region drives critical effects in our biophysical, political and economic systems," write the academics. Neither the World Economic Forum nor the International Monetary Fund currently recognise the economic danger of Arctic change.

According to Whiteman, "Global leaders and the WEF and IMF 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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For information, not for publication:

** There will be a telephone press briefing organised UNDER STRICT EMBARGO on Tuesday 23 July at 1400 London time / 900 US ET; authors Gail Whiteman, Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams will discuss their research. The call-in number is +31 20 531 58 71. For more information, or for a local toll free number, please contact mschouten@rsm.nl **

Media Contacts:

Professor Gail Whiteman is Professor of sustainability, management and climate change in the Department of Business-Society Management at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University in Rotterdam. More information here: http://www.rsm.nl/people/gail-whiteman/

Email: gwhiteman@rsm.nl
Telephone: +31 6 532 08251

Dr Chris Hope is a Reader in Policy Modelling at Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge. More information here: http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/research/faculty/hopec.html

Email: chris.hope@jbs.cam.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 12 23 33 81 94

Professor Peter Wadhams is the Professor of Ocean Physics, and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge. More information here: http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/pw11/

Email: pw11@cam.ac.uk
Telephone: + +44 77 48 03 23 71

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is ranked amongst Europe's top 10 business schools for education and amongst the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam - a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM's primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM's executive education and alumni support services are also offered from its office in the Amsterdam Zuidas business district and in Taipi, Taiwan. http://www.rsm.nl

For more information on RSM, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at mschouten@rsm.nl.

Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

Cambridge Judge Business School is internationally recognised as one of the leading providers of innovative, intellectually challenging and practical business management education across a portfolio of undergraduate, graduate and executive programmes. As a fully integrated department of a world renowned university, Cambridge Judge Business School hosts one of the largest concentrations of interdisciplinary business and management research activity in Europe.

Built on an ethos of collaboration, the School is a unique place where policy makers, regulators, industry leaders, not for profit organisations, entrepreneurs and academics can meet, interact and share ideas. Cambridge Judge Business School delivers business education for the 21st century networked economy, fostering collaborative leadership skills, developing communities of partners to meet the challenges of the new global business landscape. http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge's mission is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence. It is made up of 31 colleges and more than 100 departments that cater for some 12,000 undergraduate and 6,000 postgraduate students. Cambridge is consistently ranked among the top five universities in the world.

Some of the world's most significant scientific breakthroughs have occurred at the University, including the splitting of the atom, invention of the jet engine and the discoveries of stem cells, plate tectonics, pulsars and the structure of DNA. From Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, the University has nurtured some of history's greatest minds and has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other UK institution with 89 laureates.

Cambridge attracts the brightest and best students, researchers and academics from across the world, with a student population drawn from 135 different countries. http://www.cam.ac.uk

For more information, please contact Tom Kirk, Cambridge communications office: +44 (0)1223 766205, +44 (0)7764 161923, Thomas.Kirk@admin.cam.ac.uk



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