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Thawing of permafrost expected to cause significant additional global warming, not yet accounted for in climate predictions

November 28, 2012

Thawing of permafrost expected to cause significant additional global warming, not yet accounted for in climate predictions

Permafrost, covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere contains 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon, twice that is currently in the atmosphere, and could significantly amplify global warming should thawing accelerate as expected, according to a new report released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This can also radically change ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground.

Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost, the report released by UNEP, seeks to highlight the potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost, which have not thus far been included in climate-prediction modelling. The report recommends a special IPCC assessment on permafrost and the creation of national monitoring networks and adaptation plans as key steps to deal with potential impacts of this significant source of emissions may become a major factor in global warming.

Warming permafrost could emit 43 to 135 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 and 246 to 415 gigatonnes by 2200. These emissions could ultimately account for up to 39 percent of total emissions.

The report issues the following specific policy recommendations to address the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of permafrost warming:
- Commission a special report on permafrost emissions
- Create national permafrost monitoring networks
- Plan for adaptation

Read more at UNEP.

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