“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time bomb,” says Gail Whiteman, one of the authors of a fascinating and headline-grabbing study in this month’s Nature. Whiteman, along with Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams, warns of the catastrophic climate impact of methane being released from a rapidly thawing Arctic. The study puts a US$ 60 trillion price tag on mitigating the risk.

The authors argue that:

“…integrated analyses of Arctic change must enter global economic discussions. But neither the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its Global Risk Report nor the International Monetary Fund in its World Economic Outlook recognizes the potential economic threat from changes in the Arctic.

“In 2012, noting that the far North is increasing in strategic importance and citing the need for informal dialogue among world leaders, the WEF launched its Global Agenda Council on the Arctic. This is welcome, but more action is needed. The WEF should kick-start investment in rigorous economic modelling. It must ask world leaders to consider the economic time bomb beyond short-term gains from shipping and extraction.

“The WEF should also encourage innovative adaptation and mitigation plans. It will be difficult — perhaps impossible — to avoid large methane releases in the East Siberian Sea without major reductions in global emissions of CO2. Given that the methane originates in local seabed warming, reducing black carbon deposits on snow and ice might buy some precious time. But unknown factors could also mean that our impact estimates are conservative. Methane emerging in a sudden burst could linger for longer in the atmosphere and trigger more rapid temperature changes than if the gas were released gradually.”

Scholarship on the Arctic is moving rapidly. Can it outpace the profound changes it identifies or galvanize all the stakeholders in the global economy to act? That question will doubtless be top of mind for the Global Agenda Council on the Arctic when its Members hold discussions before their meeting in Abu Dhabi in November. We will keep readers posted.

In the meantime, anyone looking for a primer on the region could do no better than refer to The Future History of the Arctic by World Economic Forum alumnus Charles Emmerson.

For more blogs on the Arctic click here.

Author: Adrian Monck is Managing Director and Head of Communications and Media at the World Economic Forum. @amonck

Image: A ship travels on the Longyearbyen on the Norwegian Svalbard islands REUTERS/Balazs Koranyi