Study: A warming Arctic could cost the world trillions of dollars

This National Geographic article discusses how a warming Arctic could cost the world trillions of dollars. New science warns that melting ice and permafrost could set off feedback loops that make climate change worse.

SCIENTISTS HAVE LONG warned that climate change is likely to bring expensive impacts, from rising seas to stronger storms. And a new study comes with a hefty price tag.

A warming Arctic is shifting from white to dark as sea ice melts and land-covered snow retreats, and that means it can absorb even more of the sun’s heat. Plus, the Arctic’s vast permafrost area is thawing, releasing more heat-trapping carbon and methane. These climate-change-driven feedbacks in the Arctic are accelerating warming even faster and may add nearly $70 trillion to the overall costs of climate change—even if the world meets the Paris Agreement climate targets, a new study says.

Climate “tipping elements” are also known as tipping points or feedbacks, where a change in a natural system triggers further warming. Last year, a study documented ten tipping points and noted that these can act like a row of dominoes, one pushing another system over. Once started, these tipping points are nearly impossible to stop and risk what researchers called a “Hothouse Earth” state—in which the global average temperature is 4 to 5 degrees Celsius higher, with regions like the Arctic averaging 10 degrees C higher than today.

However, if efforts can be made to keep climate change limited to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5C), the extra cost of Arctic warming drops to $25 trillion, new research published in Nature Communications reports. A trillion is a thousand billion. For comparison, the global GDP in 2016 was around $76 trillion.

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