Warm Up, Pay Up

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Submitted by guest blogger Debbie Salamone of the Pew Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast.

Polar bears won’t be the only ones paying the price as the Arctic melts.

The economic impact of losing the

Arctic’s climate-cooling services could total a minimum $2.4 trillion by

2050, according to a new science study released today by my colleagues at the

Pew Environment Group.

The study quantifies, for the first

time, the global cost of losing Arctic ice, snow and frozen ground, called

permafrost, that serve as Earth’s air conditioner. The report was

released today as the G7 finance ministers from seven industrialized nations,

including the United States, meet in northern Canada to discuss economic

policies in preparation for the annual G8 summit this June.

As the Arctic melts, it delivers a

double dose of warming for the planet. Less snow and ice mean the region is

less able to reflect sunlight, and the planet warms. At the same time, methane

(CH4) – a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming – is

released from the melting permafrost.

As the additional carbon warms the planet it impacts agriculture, forestry, water use, energy use, coastal zones, hurricanes,

ecosystems and human health. Such impacts can

be expensive, leaving everyone to pay the bill.

We are already running up a bill

for Arctic warming. The authors predict the warming that will occur just this

year eventually will cost between $61 and $371 billion over the next one hundred years. To reach this number, projected trends in snow and ice loss and methane releases were

converted into carbon dioxide equivalents. Those were multiplied by the social costs

of carbon.

“This year alone, Arctic melting may warm the Earth an amount equivalent to pumping three billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere,” said Dr. Eugenie Euskirchen, a

scientist from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks’ Institute of Arctic

Biology and co-author of the report, Estimating the Climate Regulation Value

of the Melting Arctic Cryosphere. “That’s equal to 40 percent

of all U.S. industrial emissions this year or bringing on line more than 500

large coal-burning power plants.”

By 2050, the cumulative global cost is projected to range from $2.4 trillion to $24.1 trillion; and by 2100, the total cost could climb to between $4.8 trillion and $91.3 trillion.

“At the mid-range of our estimates, the cumulative cost of the melting Arctic in the next 40 years is equivalent to the annual gross domestic products of Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom combined,” said Dr. Eban Goodstein, co-author of the

report and an economist who directs the Bard Center for Environmental Policy at

Bard College in New York.

The researchers say more analysis is needed. Pew is asking the finance ministers to commission a full economic analysis of the global climate services provided by a frozen Arctic and the costs of losing them.

For a full copy of the report and to learn more about Pew’s Arctic work, visit www.oceansnorth.org.

Image: Arctic sea ice extent, September 2009. Orange line represents median sea ice coverage 1979-2000 (NASA).

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