The Economics of Proactive Climate Adaptation in Alaska

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The environmental effects that climate change in Alaska cause, such as flooding, permafrost thaw, increased precipitation, are making infrastructure vulnerable. The study looks at the impacts of climate change on Alaska public infrastructure using two future climate scenarios adopted by the IPCC, the RCP 8.5, and the RCP 4.5.

RCP 8.5 represents a high-emissions climate scenario or where CO2 emissions continue with no efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. RCP 4.5 is the lower emissions scenario that assumes that emissions peak in 2040 and then starts to drop from that year.

The study discussed the impacts of climate change, such as the temperature rise across the Arctic had been twice the global average in recent decades, sea and land ice have reduced, coastal erosion, permafrost thaw, and wildfire activity.

Permafrost thaw, for instance, can cause ground subsidence, which can negatively impact buildings, roads, and railroads, and other infrastructures. However, the study states that road flooding from increased precipitation is the largest source of damage.

The study has quantified the losses to infrastructure using the two emissions scenarios from 2015 to 2099.  Losses from infrastructure damage are more significant with the RCP 8.5 than the RCP 4.5 scenario, suggesting that when emissions are reduced, there are also cuts to the cost of infrastructure damages.

Proactive adaptation results in a reduction of expenditures for both future climate scenarios – RCP 8.5 and RCP 4.5, with the former showing a more significant expenditure saving. Adaptation measures in the study refer to upfront investment and modification of infrastructure before climate-related damages will occur.

The study shows that climate change will incur considerable amounts in infrastructure damages, but both emissions mitigation efforts and proactive climate adaptation could significantly lessen infrastructure damages.

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Source citation:

Melvin, A., Larsen, P., Boehlert, B., Neumann, J., Chinowsky, P., Espinet, X., Martinich, J., Baumann, Matthew., Rennels, L., Bothner, A., Nicolsky, D., & Marchenko, S. (2016). Climate change damages to Alaska public infrastructure and the economics of proactive adaptation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114. 201611056. 10.1073/pnas.1611056113.

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