Bloomberg News

World Bank Sees Ways to Slow Arctic Melt in Kitchen, Coal Mines

November 03, 2013

Greenland Glacier

A stream flows through a glacier near Qaanaaq, Greenland. Source: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Replacing cook stoves, curbing crop fires and capturing methane when extracting fossil fuels would help slow ice melting from the Arctic to the Himalayas and decrease risks of flooding, the World Bank said.

Global warming is accelerating the thawing of glaciers, snow caps and permafrost, which will in turn release carbon dioxide and methane they held into the atmosphere, the bank said. Measures to fight pollution today can hold back these changes while improving the health of millions of people, according to the report.

“Efforts to reduce black carbon and methane cannot replace long-term mitigation of CO2, which requires a global transition to a low-carbon, highly energy-efficient economy,” Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president for sustainable development, wrote in a foreword to the report. “By addressing short-lived climate pollutants, however, we will be reaping some significant climate benefits while at the same time meeting human development needs now.”

The study is the latest alert by the Washington-based bank against the risks associated with global warming as it moves away from financing coal-fired power plants under President Jim Yong Kim. It was released a week before envoys from 190 countries start meeting in Warsaw to continue talks for a new climate change treaty that they aim to broker by 2015.

“Both the Arctic and high mountain regions hold large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide in frozen form, from as far back as 400,000 years ago,” according to the report. “Methane in particular is an extremely potent near-term warming agent, and sudden releases could speed warming on a global scale that would be measured in decades.”

Methane Release

It’s already happening, with large bubbles of methane hydrates appearing off the coast of Siberia in 2010 and 2011, according to the report, which was co-written by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, a non-profit group that defines its goal as making the melting of snow and ice regions part of the climate debate.

The bank’s goal is to have as many of its loans as possible focusing on activities that help reduce short-lived climate pollutants, Kyte wrote.

Cooking with fan-assisted or ethanol-fueled stoves could mitigate the warming impact on polar and mountain regions. It would also bring down the death toll due to exposure to cooking smoke, which at 4 million people a year is more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, according to the report.

Field Fires

The measure is one of 14 suggested in the report, which if all implemented by 2030 could slow warming in the Arctic by more than a full degree by 2050, according to the authors. Halving open-field and forest burning could also have a dual effect and decrease deaths to air pollution by 190,000 annually, according to the findings.

“Human activity causes almost all open-field and forest fires, either intentionally or by accident,” according to the study. “Effective no-burn alternatives exist for most agricultural sector use of fire, and results in this report indicate that up to 90 percent reductions may be possible in some regions.”

Methane is often emitted during during the fossil fuel mining process, especially for coal, according to the study, which recommends capturing the gas to use it, for instance, as energy source.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Washington at srastello@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net


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