Arctic Melting Could Cost $2.4 Trillion by 2050, Report Suggests

If climate change continues apace, the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice and snow could cost a minimum of $2.4 trillion by 2050, a new report from the Pew Environment Group finds.

The report, An Initial Estimate of the Cost of Lost Climate Regulation Services Due to Changes in the Arctic Cryosphere (29 pages, PDF), estimates the economic cost of Arctic melting by converting projected trends in snow and ice loss and methane releases into carbon dioxide emissions equivalents. Those are then multiplied by the social cost of carbon — an estimate by economists of the impact of climate change on agriculture, energy production, water availability, sea level rise, flooding, and other factors. The loss of heat-reflecting sea ice and snow results in the absorption of more solar energy, while the thawing of permafrost releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In turn, the increased warming from these effects leads to a feedback loop of more melting and thawing. The report points out that the Arctic region is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet.

The report calculates that this year alone, retreating Arctic sea ice and snow and thawing permafrost could warm the Earth by an amount equivalent to pumping three billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — or bringing online more than five hundred large coal-burning power plants. Moreover, the report estimates that, at the low end of projections, the cost of the lost cooling value of the Arctic could amount to nearly $5 trillion by the end of the century.

"Putting a dollar figure on the Arctic's climate services allows us to better understand both the region's immense importance and the enormous price we will pay if the ice is lost," said Eban Goodstein, director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and co-author of the report. "At the mid-range of our estimates, the cumulative cost of the melting Arctic in the next forty years is equivalent to the annual gross domestic products of Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom combined."

"Pew Environment Report Says Melting Arctic Could Cost $2.4 Trillion by 2050." Pew Charitable Trusts Press Release 02/05/2010.