North

Thawing permafrost could cost $43 trillion by end of century: new study

A new study is putting the cost of emissions from thawing permafrost at $43 trillion US by the end of this century, including lost agriculture, ecosystems and health impacts.

80% of economic impacts will be felt in developing countries, authors say

A look at permafrost near Toolik Lake, Alaska in 2012. Researchers say the cost of emissions from thawing permafrost by the end of the century could be $43 trillion, which will mostly be felt in developing countries. (Kevin Schaefer/National Snow and Ice Data Centre)

A new study is putting the cost of emissions from thawing permafrost at $43 trillion US by the end of this century. That figure factors in lost agriculture, ecosystems and health impacts.

According to the study, which was released by Cambridge University and the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, permafrost is believed to contain 1,700 gigatonnes — each gigatonne is a billion tonnes — of carbon. When permafrost thaws, carbon dioxide and methane locked inside is released.

One of the authors of the study, Chris Hope, says researchers calculated economic costs by looking at the direct effects on gross domestic product, as well as indirect effects, "such as losses to ecosystems, inundation from sea level rise, and an increase in the chance of climate catastrophe."

Hope points to deaths from heat stroke in Europe as one specific example of the health-related effects.

Until this study, he says, there have been no estimates on the cost of those emissions on the economy.

"This is just one more factor that indicates that we really need to do something," says researcher Kevin Schaefer, who worked on the project.

"There's only one way to stop the permafrost from thawing, and that is reducing emissions."

The $43 trillion US estimate is in addition to previous studies, which have put the economic impacts of climate change at more than $300 trillion by the year 2200.

"We need to estimate how much it will cost if we do nothing, how much it will cost if we do something, and how much we need to spend to cut back greenhouse gases," Hope says.

Hope predicts 80 per cent of economic impacts will be felt in developing countries.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now