New research suggests that climate change-induced thawing of Arctic permafrost is on track to accelerate its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a rate that is unmanageable globally and beyond the economic capacity of Arctic nations to absorb regionally. Absent any national or international plan to address this Permafrost Carbon Feedback (PCF), the Canadian-based PCF Action Group is about to convene a series of technical workshops designed to produce a PCF Technology Roadmap as the first step to remediation.
Arctic permafrost has traditionally acted as a carbon sink: annual plant growth captured and sequestered more carbon than was emitted from thawing and decomposition, which releases both CO2 and the more-powerful GHG, methane (CH4). But in a paper in NOAA’s 2019 Arctic Report Card, University of Northern Arizona Prof. Edward Schuur reported that, thanks to the accelerating permafrost thaw, annual Arctic emissions of CO2 alone now exceed the carbon absorbed by plant growth by as much as 0.6Pg of carbon – or 2.2 gigatons of CO2. The Canadian proportion of such a volume is about the same as its human emissions.
Extrapolating from Dr. Schuur’s research, by 2100 accumulated net PCF emissions could reach 400 GT/CO2, thereby generating from a single source an amount roughly equal to the budget for total global human carbon emissions in the 2015 Paris Accord.
No studies have examined how to prevent PCF, and few have proposed post-emission mitigation. If Direct Air Capture of CO2 were to be the sole possible remedy, by 2060 the Canadian share could be as much as roughly 6% to 8% of its GDP, with similar impacts in Russia and other Arctic countries – amounts these nations could ill afford.2
The PCF Technology RoadMap workshops propose to address technical remediation gaps with testimony from global experts in all relevant areas of science and technology. Technical goals will include what methods could prevent PCF or, post-emission, reduce its impact – with further analysis comparing costs to the relative danger of inaction at this time. The resulting PCF Technology Roadmap will be the basis for considering key political and policy matters, such as how to garner collaborative support, from among Arctic nations and beyond, to tackle solutions and share costs.
The PCF Action Group is a joint venture between the Canadian Permafrost Association and IBET CCC (The Institute for Breakthrough Energy Technologies), a Vancouver team of consultants, investors and managers of climate-oriented start-ups. The Action Group also includes policy experts, notably former Yukon Premier Tony Penikett.
The PCF Action Group is receiving input and advice from Environment and Climate Change Canada in the organization and content of its privately funded, invitation-only virtual workshops. These will feature presentations from sectoral technical experts, and key observers from other Arctic nations and peoples. The final report will be public, and is expected early in 2021.
Disclaimer: this list is not exhaustive at all, but may help as a starter.
Susan C. Cook-Patton, Sara M. Leavitt, […] Bronson W. Griscom
Abstract: To constrain global warming, we must strongly curtail greenhouse gas emissions and capture excess atmospheric carbon dioxide. Regrowing natural forests is a prominent strategy for capturing additional carbon, but accurate assessments of its potential are limited by uncertainty and variability in carbon accumulation rates. To assess why and where rates differ, here we compile 13,112 georeferenced measurements of carbon accumulation. Climatic factors explain variation in rates better than land-use history, so we combine the field measurements with 66 environmental covariate layers to create a global, one-kilometre-resolution map of potential aboveground carbon accumulation rates for the first 30 years of natural forest regrowth. This map shows over 100-fold variation in rates across the globe, and indicates that default rates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may underestimate aboveground carbon accumulation rates by 32 per cent on average and do not capture eight-fold variation within ecozones. Conversely, we conclude that maximum climate mitigation potential from natural forest regrowth is 11 per cent lower than previously reported3 owing to the use of overly high rates for the location of potential new forest. Although our data compilation includes more studies and sites than previous efforts, our results depend on data availability, which is concentrated in ten countries, and data quality, which varies across studies. However, the plots cover most of the environmental conditions across the areas for which we predicted carbon accumulation rates (except for northern Africa and northeast Asia). We therefore provide a robust and globally consistent tool for assessing natural forest regrowth as a climate mitigation strategy.
Nature 585, 545–550 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2686-x (link)