Permafrost – a permanently frozen layer of ground below the Earth’s surface which covers as much as one quarter of the Northern Hemisphere – is estimated to store five times as much carbon as has been emitted by all human activities since 1850.

Rising temperatures cause the thawing of permafrost which releases carbon into the atmosphere, further exacerbating global warming. This results in a vicious circle in the warming of the Earth – warming temperatures melt permafrost which releases more gases which leads to warming temperatures - which could soon reach a tipping point. A recent oil spill in Russia is considered to be as a possible result of loss of permafrost (the installations were built on permafrost).

A combination of technology-based and nature-based solutions may assist in moderating the impact of this feedback loop. Liquefaction of the released gases and their re-use as a source of energy, together with the reintroduction of large grazing animals to stabilise the ecosystem, could help preserve permafrost as one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. A reduction in GHGS and a brake on global warming will of course play the most important role in preserving permafrost.

Clyde & Co is running a virtual legal hackathon between 1 July and 4 August 2020 in partnership with The Chancery Lane Project. This post is part of a series of updates posted during the hackathon on business-relevant climate initiatives and innovative solutions to some of the challenges arising from climate change.