Melting Arctic ice called 'economic time bomb'

The rapidly melting Arctic is an "economic time bomb" that will cost $60 trillion or more over the next 10 years, say a group of European economic and science researchers.

Researchers put cost at $60 trillion over 10 years, almost equal to entire world economy in 2012

Climate change cost

8 years ago
Chris Hope explains why we must put a price on Arctic ice melting 4:54

The rapidly melting Arctic is an "economic time bomb" that will cost $60 trillion or more over the next 10 years, say a group of European economic and science researchers.

That staggering number approaches the $70 trillion value of the entire world economy in 2012, the scientists say in a comment in the journal Nature.

The researchers — Gail Whiteman, of the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, Chris Hope of the Cambridge Judge Business School and Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics at University of Cambridge, both in Britain — are urging creation of an economic model for the impact of climate change.

Such a model is long overdue in the absence of an effective world plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions, they argue.

"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 offshore waters which are now able to warm up in the summer. This massive methane boost will have major implications for global economies and societies," Wadhams says.

Opens shipping channels

The decline in Arctic sea ice has been widely seen as economically beneficial because it opens up more shipping and drilling in a region thought to contain 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 per cent of its undiscovered oil.

"The benefits of that will likely be in the billions of dollars and the extra costs are measured in tens of trillions of dollars, so they would certainly outweigh any benefit," Hope said in an interview with CBC News.

Melting ice is releasing plumes of methane into the Earth’s atmosphere, speeding up the pace of global warming, Wadhams says.

For the Nature article, the researchers calculated the global consequences of the release of 50 gigatonnes of methane over a decade from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea and concluded there will be a $60 trillion economic impact resulting from more extreme weather, flooding, drought and poor health.

That’s a preliminary estimate because it doesn’t factor in ocean acidification or potential changes in atmospheric circulation that are not yet fully understood. Nor does it calculate the cost of greenhouse gases released by melting permafrost on land.

Much of the cost – about 80 per cent — will hit developing nations, who don’t have the infrastructure to deal with natural disasters, Hope said.

He called on world leaders to "kick-start investment in rigorous economic modelling" that calculates the impact of a changing Arctic landscape.

Hope says the world can reduce that impending damage by about a third if it acts to cut back the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

Likes the B.C. carbon tax

He recommends the use of carbon taxes, similar to the one introduced in British Columbia.

"The main action we need to take is finding a way of reducing our emissions of our greenhouse gases and the best way to do that is to put a price on the emissions of greenhouse gases put a tax on the emission of carbon dioxide and British Columbia in Canada has led the world in that," Hope said.

The economic damage all nations face will outweigh any "short-term gains from shipping and extraction" even if the pace of emissions is slowed, the article says.

"In all of these cases, there is a steep global price tag attached to physical changes in the Arctic, notwithstanding the short-term economic gains for Arctic nations and some industries," the researchers write.