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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us