Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost

Abstract

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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

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.

References

  1. 1

    Schaefer, K., Lantuit, H., Romanovsky, V. E. & Schuur, E. A. G. United Nations Environment Programme Special Report (UNEP, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Schaefer, K., Lantuit, H., Romanovsky, V. E., Schuur, E. A. G. & Witt, R. The impact of the permafrost carbon feedback on global climate. Environ. Res. Lett. 9, 085003 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Hope, C. Critical issues for the calculation of the social cost of CO2: Why the estimates from PAGE09 are higher than those from PAGE2002. Climatic Change 117, 531–543 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Nakicenovic, N. & Swart, R. IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Whiteman, G., Hope, C. & Wadhams, P. Climate science: Vast costs of Arctic change. Nature 499, 401–403 (2013).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis (United States Government, 2013); https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/assets/inforeg/technical-update-social-cost-of-carbon-for-regulator-impact-analysis.pdf

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Schaefer, K., Zhang, T., Bruhwiler, L. & Barrett, A. P. Amount and timing of permafrost carbon release in response to climate warming. Tellus B 63B, 165–180 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Schuur, E. A. G. et al. Vulnerability of permafrost carbon to climate change: Implications for the global carbon cycle. Bioscience 58, 701–714 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Tarnocai, C. et al. Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 23, GB2023 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Christiansen, H. H. et al. The thermal state of permafrost in the Nordic area during the International Polar Year. Permafrost Periglac. Proc. 21, 156–181 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Romanovsky, V. E. et al. Thermal state of permafrost in Russia. Permafrost Periglac. Proc. 21, 136–155 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Zimov, S. A., Schuur, E. A. G. & Chapin, F. S. Permafrost and the global carbon budget. Science 312, 1612–1613 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Pindyck, R. S. Climate change policy: What do the models tell us? J. Econ. Lit. 51, 860–872 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Andrews, D. G. & Allen, M. R. Diagnosis of climate models in terms of transient climate response and feedback response time. Atmos. Sci. Lett. 9, 7–12 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Stern, N. The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Nordhaus, W. D. A review of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change. J. Econ. Lit. 45, 686–702 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    O’Neill, B. C. et al. A new scenario framework for climate change research: The concept of shared socioeconomic pathways. Climatic Change 122, 387–400 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Gohar, L. K. & Lowe, A. Summary of the Committee on Climate Change’s 2016 Peak Emission Scenarios Report 1 (AVOID programme, Met Office Hadley Centre, 2009); http://go.nature.com/YX3ghW

  19. 19

    The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review (Asian Development Bank, 2009)

  20. 20

    Eliasch, J. Climate Change: Financing Global Forests (Office of Climate Change, 2008).

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    IPCC Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Warren, R. et al. Spotlighting Impacts Functions in Integrated Assessment Paper 91 (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2006)

  23. 23

    Anthoff, D., Nicholls, R. J., Tol, R. S. J. & Vafeidis, A. T. Global and Regional Exposure to Large Rises in Sea-Level: A Sensitivity Analysis Working Paper 96 (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2006)

  24. 24

    Ackerman, F., Stanton, E. A., Hope, C. & Alberth, S. Did the Stern Review underestimate US and global climate damages? Energy Policy 37, 2717–2721 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Tol, R. S. J. New estimates of the damage costs of climate change, Part II: Dynamic estimates. Environ. Resour. Econ. 21, 135–160 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26

    Weitzman, M. L. On modelling and interpreting the economics of catastrophic climate change. Rev. Econ. Stat. 91, 1–19 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Lenton, T. M. et al. Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 1786–1793 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Nordhaus, W. D. Expert opinion on climate change. Am. Sci. 82, 45–51 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    De Bruin, K., Dellink, R. & Agrawala, S. Economic Aspects of Adaptation to Climate Change: Integrated Assessment Modelling of Adaptation Costs and Benefits Environment Working Paper 6 (OECD, 2009)

  30. 30

    Parry, M. et al. Assessing the Costs of Adaptation to Climate Change: A Review of the UNFCCC and Other Recent Estimates (International Institute for Environment and Development and Grantham Institute for Climate Change, 2009).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

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

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chris Hope.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hope, C., Schaefer, K. Economic impacts of carbon dioxide and methane released from thawing permafrost. Nature Clim Change 6, 56–59 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2807

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing