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

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution