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Massive economic impact as permafrost melts


Themes: Energy and environment

A leading Cambridge expert on the economics of climate change has warned that the impact of emissions from melting permafrost is likely to dwarf current estimates and will become tens of trillions of dollars

Dr Chris Hope, Reader in Policy Modelling at Cambridge Judge Business School, has used figures provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to model possible economic impacts. UNEP is now calling for a special report into the impact of emissions caused by greenhouse gases as the permafrost melts.

“Extra emissions caused by melting permafrost could see temperatures may be rising by a tenth of a degree higher than it would otherwise have been. That may not sound very much but we’ve got to remember that is on top of three-and-a-half or four degrees of temperature rise that we would expect to see anyway from our emissions of greenhouse gases, from burning fossil fuels, so it could lead to even more severe damages. It could lead to the possibility of very nasty things like the melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the West Antarctic ice sheet.”

Speaking in an interview for Cambridge Judge Business School’s website, Dr Hope adds that, based on UNEP figures, damage from the release of greenhouse gases as the permafrost melts could easily top tens of trillions of dollars and he believes that a United Nations special report is a step in the right direction which should be taken now.

“We should always keep studying this and I don’t think we should postpone action to wait several more years for a special report. I think anything that says that the impacts are likely to be tens of trillions of dollars means we should be taking action pretty much straight away.”

Dr Hope was the specialist advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs Inquiry into aspects of the economics of climate change.