COP18 (26/11/12) – Kevin Schaefer, Research Scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder warns about the impact that melting permafrost could have on global climate change and calls for it to be considered by countries as they work towards a new global treaty.
He talks about his research conducted with the UN Environment Programme that looked at the policy implications of melting permafrost. It found 17,000 gigatonnes of carbon stored in the permafrost in the northern hemisphere.
He warns that these emissions have to be taken into account to prevent the world overshooting the 2°C warming target.
The report’s recommendations include calling for an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment specifically looking at permafrost thaw, and calling on countries where permafrost exists to take over and expand existing monitoring systems and to set out national adaptation plans.
Schaefer warns that while the biggest issue of melting permafrost is the release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere there will also be other implications. As the ice melts and turns to water, permafrost will turn to mud and any human infrastructure – buildings, bridges and roads – would be damaged.
He warns that melting permafrost is a classic climatic tipping point and that once the thaw of this ice releases emissions, they will continue to persist for centuries.