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Arctic's Melting Permafrost Will Cost The World $70 Trillion: Study

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Climate change is changing the world at an increasingly rapid speed with endless consequences on life on Earth, including the global economy where the impact could cost trillions of dollars.

The Arctic's Economic Impact

In the Arctic, the warming climate is causing the permafrost to melt and release an abundance of carbon in the atmosphere. Furthermore, the melting ice means that the Earth's surface is absorbing even more heat from the sun.

All these effects are accelerating global warming, and the Arctic feedback adds a steep cost to the economy: nearly $70 trillion, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.

However, the interdisciplinary team behind the research notes that if the world keeps the global temperature rise limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the additional economic impact drops to $25 trillion. This is at pre-industrial levels, which is consistent with international Paris Agreement target.

"Our findings support the need for more proactive mitigation measures to keep global temperature rise well below 2C," explained Dmitry Yumashev, lead author from the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University. He adds that the authors hope the research will open the doors for more assessments of nonlinear processes in the climate system even beyond the Arctic.

Researchers Analyze PCF, SAF

With simulations, Yumashev and the other researchers explored the strength of the permafrost carbon feedback (PCF) and the surface albedo feedback (SAF). The former is driven by the extra carbon released by the melting permafrost, while the latter is driven by the extra solar heat getting absorbed by the surface due to the melting ice and exposed land.

Most of the climate policy studies that have been conducted implied constant SAF but zero PCF. However, recent data reveal that PCF is actually stronger. Furthermore, the strength of both is constantly changing in nonlinear ways as the climate warms.

"Arctic sea ice and land snow currently contribute around a third each to the global albedo feedback," Yumashev said. "These two components are set to peak for global temperatures within the range covered by the Paris Agreement, but if the climate warms further, the summer and spring sea ice and land snow covers will retreat further north and the albedo feedback will actually weaken."

He adds that they found permafrost feedback becomes progressively stronger in climates that are warmer.

So How Much Will Climate Change Cost The World?

The nonlinear Arctic feedback of the new study adds to the total cost of climate change.

Previous estimates of climate change's total cost, with the constant Arctic feedback, amount to $600 trillion. In a 1.5 degrees Celsius scenario, nonlinear PCF and SAF add $25 trillion to the global price tag, while they add another $34 trillion in a 2 degrees Celsius scenario.

Ultimately, the study findings show that cutting back the global temperature rise is a prospect that's more beneficial to the world economy. Not only will it keep the environmental consequences at bay, but it will also prevent the costs from rising sky high.

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