Arctic Ice-Melt Cost Seen Equal to Year of World Economic Output

The cost to the world from melting Arctic ice is equal to almost a year of global economic output as releasing methane trapped in the frozen continent leads to extreme weather, flooding and droughts, scientists said.

The methane emissions are an “economic time-bomb” that may cost $60 trillion from effects on the climate, according to research published today by the University of Cambridge and the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University. Extreme weather events would mainly affect developing nations.

The research in the scientific journal Nature follows plans by companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and OAO Gazprom to explore the Arctic for resources. Shell halted operations off the Alaskan coast after accidents in 2012. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace criticize the plans, saying oil spills above the Arctic circle would be almost impossible to clean up.

“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, professor of sustainability, management and climate change at Rotterdam School of Management. Global organizations such as the World Economic Forum should urge leaders to discuss the issue and encourage investment in economic modeling to explore the effects, she said by e-mail.

The release of 50 gigatons of methane over a decade from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea would bring forward the date at which the gain in global mean temperature exceeds 2 degrees Celsius by 15 to 35 years, said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modeling at Cambridge Judge Business School. The United Nations has called for the world’s governments to act to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees.

East Siberia

“Our response to the rapid warming of the Arctic should be a concerted attempt to shift away from fossil fuels towards a more efficient renewable energy system that will increase the resilience of our economies,” Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International’s Arctic oil campaign, said by e-mail. “This new research should be required reading for politicians and businesses looking to avoid the huge costs that climate change will bring.”

The researchers said costs may be higher than $60 trillion including effects such as ocean acidification. Discussions about the warming Arctic focus on benefits such increased fossil fuel drilling and new shipping routes, the authors said. These are “missing the big picture on Arctic change,” they said.

Global nominal gross domestic product was $71.7 trillion in 2012, up from $58 trillion in 2009, World Bank figures show.