Methane gas can dramatically change the global climate

There are large uncertainties in the $60tn figure

Share
Related Topics

Methane gas is one of the wildest of wild cards in the game of trying to assess future climate change. But among the many uncertainties, scientists know two things for sure: there is a vast amount of methane stored in the Arctic region, and if it were to be suddenly released into the atmosphere, it could dramatically change the global climate.

The latest study, it has to be said, is only the first, tentative stab at trying to assess the economic impacts of a sudden methane release from the Arctic. Unlike the usual peer-reviewed research papers in Nature, this one was clearly published under the rubric of “comment”.

The three researchers – an economist, a social scientist and an Arctic ice specialist – have broken new ground by tackling the difficult issue of assessing the economic costs of a large-scale escape of methane, which as a greenhouse gas is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.

They used an economic computer model called PAGE09 which was also used by the Stern Review into climate change costs and the US Environmental Protection Agency. They estimated, on average, it would cost a staggering $60 trillion (£40tn) if just one of the known Arctic methane reserves were to be suddenly released as a result of melting permafrost.

Some will no doubt argue that these kinds of computer models are not to be trusted, and there are many assumptions and uncertainties lying behind this kind of work. Nevertheless, the researchers believe this is a useful exercise in balance given the optimism over the supposed economic benefits of Arctic oil and gas exploration, to say nothing of the shipping bonanza offered by an ice-free Northern Sea Route between Japan, China and Europe.

There are large uncertainties even in this $60tn figure. There is a 5 per chance that the costs could be as little as $10tn and a 5 per cent chance of them being as high as $220tn. But 80 per cent of this extra financial burden is likely to fall on the poorer nations of Africa, Asia and South America, which will suffer most as methane magnifies the risk of flooding to low-lying areas, extreme heat stress, drought and storms.

“What the model does is allow us to work out how much extra temperature rise there is and we find in average terms it brings forward the date at which the 2C temperature rise is exceeded by somewhere between 15 and 35 years,” explained Chris Hope, an economist at Cambridge University.

“As the temperature and sea levels rise, we can the go on to estimate the extra impacts in the regions around the world and in different economic sectors,” Dr Hope said.

“Of course the answer is uncertain, as everything about the climate is uncertain, but we can run the model many thousands of times to try to take account of this uncertainty,” he said.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent