UNEP Report Urges Policymakers to Account for Thawing Permafrost in Climate Projections
“Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet’s future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world,” he said.
“Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems, and infrastructure has been neglected for too long,” Steiner added.
According to the report, Arctic and alpine air temperatures are expected to increase at roughly twice the global rate, and climate projections indicate substantial loss of permafrost by 2100. A global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius means a 6 degrees Celsius increase in the Arctic, resulting in an irreversible loss of anywhere between 30 to 85 percent of near-surface permafrost.
Warming permafrost could emit 43 to 135 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 and 246 to 415 gigatons by 2200. Emissions could start within the next few decades and continue for several centuries, the report said.
“Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 percent of total emissions,” Schaefer said. “This must be factored in to treaty negotiations expected to replace the Kyoto Protocol.”
The Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beginning 2005. While the U.N. climate change treaty encourages industrialized countries to limit GHG emissions, the Kyoto Protocol commits them to do so. Industrialized countries are expected to recommit to the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol in 2013.
Schaefer’s co-authors include Hugues Lantuit of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research in Potsdam, Germany; Vladimir E. Romanovsky of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the United States; Edward A.G. Schuur of the University of Florida in the United States; and Isabelle Gärtner-Roer of the University of Zürich in Switzerland.