Permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere contains 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon, twice that currently in the atmosphere, and could significantly amplify global warming should thawing accelerate as expected, according to a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Warming permafrost can also radically change ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground, the report says.
Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost 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 science on the potential impacts of warming permafrost has only begun to enter the mainstream in the last few years, and as a truly "emerging issue" could not have been included in climate change modelling to date.
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, which may become a major factor in global warming.