ABC News Online, 6 February 2010
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Arctic ice melting could cost global agriculture, real estate and insurance anywhere from $US2.4 trillion to $US24 trillion by 2050 in damage from rising sea levels, floods and heat waves, according to a new report.
"Everybody around the world is going to bear these costs," said Eban Goodstein, a resource economist at Bard College in New York state who co-authored the report, called Arctic Treasure, Global Assets Melting Away.
He said the report, reviewed by more than a dozen scientists and economists and funded by the Pew Environment Group, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, provides a first attempt to monetise the cost of the loss of one of the world's great weather makers.
"The Arctic is the planet's air conditioner and it's starting to break down," he said.
The loss of Arctic Sea ice and snow cover is already costing the world about $US61 billion to $US371 billion annually from costs associated with heat waves, flooding and other factors, the report said.
The losses could grow as a warmer Arctic unlocks vast stores of methane in the permafrost. The gas has about 21 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.
Melting of Arctic sea ice is already triggering a feedback of more warming as dark water revealed by the receding ice absorbs more of the sun's energy, he said. That could lead to more melting of glaciers on land and raise global sea levels.
While much of Europe and the United States has suffered heavy snowstorms and unusually low temperatures this winter, evidence has built that the Arctic is at risk from warming.
Greenhouse gases generated by tailpipes and smokestacks have pushed Arctic temperatures in the last decade to the highest levels in at least 2,000 years, reversing a natural cooling trend, an international team of researchers reported in the journal Science in September.
Arctic emissions of methane have jumped 30 per cent in recent years, scientists said last month.
Thin ice over the Arctic Sea this winter could mean a powerful ice-melt next summer, a top US climate scientist said this week.
And early findings from a major research project in Canada involving more than 370 scientists from 27 countries showed on Friday that climate change is transforming the Arctic environment faster than expected and accelerating the disappearance of sea ice.
Mr Goodstein's study did not look at worst-case scenarios Arctic melting could have, such as warmer temperatures that trigger massive releases of crystallised methane formations in Arctic soils and ocean beds known as methane hydrates. It also did not look at sea ice erosion troubling people in the Arctic.