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Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost


The Arctic is warming roughly twice as fast as the global average1. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at current rates, this warming will lead to the widespread thawing of permafrost and the release of hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 and billions of tonnes of CH4 into the atmosphere2. So far there have been no estimates of the possible extra economic impacts from permafrost emissions of CO2 and CH4. Here we use the default PAGE09 integrated assessment model3 to show the range of possible global economic impacts if this CO2 and CH4 is released into the atmosphere on top of the anthropogenic emissions from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenario A1B (ref. 4) and three other scenarios. Under the A1B scenario, CO2 and CH4 released from permafrost increases the mean net present value of the impacts of climate change by US$43 trillion, or about 13% (5–95% range: US$3–166 trillion), proportional to the increase in total emissions due to thawing permafrost. The extra impacts of the permafrost CO2 and CH4 are sufficiently high to justify urgent action to minimize the scale of the release.

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Figure 1: Estimated annual emissions of CO2 from thawing permafrost for the A1B scenario from the IPCC AR4.
Figure 2: Estimated annual emissions of CH4 from thawing permafrost for the A1B scenario from the IPCC AR4.
Figure 3: Global mean temperature rise relative to pre-industrial conditions by date, with and without permafrost CO2 and CH4 emissions for the IPCC AR4 A1B scenario.
Figure 4: Extra annual economic impacts from permafrost CO2 and CH4 emissions, by date, for the IPCC AR4 A1B scenario estimated using the default PAGE09 model.
Figure 5: Net present Value (NPV) of extra impacts from permafrost CO2 and CH4 emissions, A1B scenario in the default PAGE09 model.
Figure 6: The inputs in the default PAGE09 model that most strongly influence the NPV of the extra impacts from thawing permafrost for the IPCC AR4 A1B scenario.


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This research was supported by NASA grant NNX10AR63G and NOAA grant NA09OAR4310063. N. Arnell provided SSP2 and SSP3 data aggregated to the regions in PAGE09 under the UK’s AVOID2 research programme.

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C.H. and K.S. contributed equally to the work.

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Correspondence to Chris Hope.

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Hope, C., Schaefer, K. Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost. Nature Clim Change 6, 56–59 (2016).

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