According to a new study published in the journal Nature, the possible release of methane gas in the Arctic could cost the global economy up to $60 trillion in the coming decades—nearly equal to the global economy’s worth in 2012.
Methane gas is usually trapped in sediment in sea beds, and in particular concentration in the frozen Arctic ice. The greenhouse gas is released as ocean water warms, and often dissolves in the sea water. However, the steadily rising temperatures sometimes allow the methane to seep out of the water—a phenomenon that could potentially be disastrous for the global environment.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University examined the effects of a hypothetical release of Arctic methane over ten years, using the current yearly rate of global temperature increase. Using economic modeling, the researchers calculated that global economic impacts could reach up to $60 trillion, should measures not be taken to curb climate change.
The researchers calculated that the total expenditures would be reduced to around $37 trillion if preventative measures are put in place to lower emissions. The number could increase, however, if other possible factors such as ocean acidification are taken into account.
The study suggested that the large majority of economic impact would be borne by developing countries. Extreme weather, flooding, droughts, and related agricultural and health impacts would be felt around the globe, but most devastatingly in the developing world.
“That’s an economic time bomb that at this stage has not been recognized on the world stage,” stated Professor Gail Whitman, an author of the study and professor of sustainability, management, and climate change at Erasmus University.
“We think it’s incredibly important for world leaders to really discuss what are the implications of this methane release and what could we indeed do about it to hopefully prevent the whole burst from happening,” Whitman continued.
The researchers say that their recent study is in stark contrast with other recently released, more optimistic analyses of global climate change.