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UN voices concern over permafrost thaw

The Russian tundra is of key importance to the world's climate future. Photo: Christina Henriksen

Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet’s future, the United Nation Environment Programme stresses at the ongoing climate change negotiations in Doha. Thawing permafrost could radically alter ecosystems, the UN body says.

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According to Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, “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.  According to the UN leader, permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39% of total climate gas emissions.

The UNEP has published a report on the issue ahead of the ongoing climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The report reads that permafrost thaw could “radically alter ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground” and called for national monitoring systems to be put in place by countries with permafrost, including Russia, Canada, China and the US, Euractiv reports.

Warming permafrost could emit 43 to 135 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2100 and 246 to 415 gigatonnes by 2200, according to the report, and emissions could start within the next few decades. Permafrost emissions could ultimately account for up to 39% of total emissions, according to the report.

Russia is the country with the biggest permafrost areas. Major parts of northern Siberia and the Russian far east, as well as parts of European Russia, has the freezing soil. In Siberia, the permafrost can cover a layer as deep as 1500 meters.