Thawing permafrost expected to cause significant additional global warming: UNEP

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A scientist standing in front of an ice-rich permafrost exposure on the coast of Herschel Island, Yukon Territory (photo: Michael Fritz).

A new UN report warns that permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere could significantly amplify global warming should thawing accelerate as expected.

The report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), says warming permafrost can also radically alter ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground.

The report titled “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 models.

It recommends a special assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 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.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says "Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future, because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world".

He warns that "its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long".

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’15″

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