Call for more action on permafrost threat

Updated: 2012-11-27 21:41

By Lan Lan (

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Countries in the northern hemisphere including Russia, Canada, China and the United States are being called on to increase funding and build monitoring networks to manage the risks of warming permafrost.

Policymakers and scientists should pay greater attention to the risks of large carbon dioxide and methane emissions from permafrost, according to a scientific report released by the United Nations Environment Programme on Nov 27 in Doha, Qatar.

Permafrost contains 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon, twice that currently in the atmosphere. Thawing of permafrost may cause significant additional global warming that has not been included in previous scientific assessments, it said.

"Anthropogenic emission targets in the climate change treaty need to account for these emissions or we risk overshooting the 2 degree Celsius maximum warming target," said Kevin Schaefer, a lead author of the report, from the University of Colorado.

The report also recommends forming a special intergovernmental panel on climate change on permafrost, which may become a major factor in global warming.

It said a global temperature increase of 3 degrees C means a 6 degree C increase in the Arctic. Warming permafrost could emit 43 to 135 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 and 264 to 415 gigatonnes by 2200.