Reducing Methane Emissions Key to Slowing Climate Warming
Methane from livestock production, fossil fuels, and landfills contributes 30% of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for global warming
Since methane is a greenhouse gas that is far more potent in terms of its warming potential than carbon dioxide, cutting back methane emissions is essential if we hope to tackle climate change and the associated extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, and devastating storms that communities all over the world are already facing, a new Global Methane Assessment report concludes.
According to the report, which was compiled by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition in collaboration with the United Nations Environmental Program, methane emissions are rising faster than we have ever seen over the last forty years of atmospheric observations. In 2020 there was an unprecedented increase in the amount of methane emitted by cattle, waste rotting on landfills, and gas emitted by the fossil fuel industry, particularly leaks arising during fracking activities. Slashing these emissions would be the most effective thing we can do to slow global warming over the short term.
Methane emissions could be slashed by half by 2030 without the need for new technology or a huge monetary outlay. In fact, many of the proposed actions to reduce methane emissions, such as capturing methane emitted by gas leaks on fossil fuel production sites, could actually generate money and be financially and environmentally beneficial in the long run.
The latest global methane assessment found that forty-two percent of anthropogenic methane emissions originate from the agricultural industry, primarily from gas emitted by belching livestock, rotting manure, and rice paddy fields. Methane leaks from oil and gas drilling sites, oil and gas pipelines, and coal mines were responsible for thirty-six percent, with methane emitted from landfills contributing eighteen percent of the total.[caption id="attachment_2197" align="aligncenter" width="1500"] Credit: GRID-Arendal, via Flickr[/caption]
The report proposed the following solutions to reduce methane emissions across these key industries:
- Methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry could be feasibly and cost-effectively slashed by 60% by simply refraining from venting natural gas and by sealing equipment properly.
- Waste management facilities could slash methane emissions by around 35% by limiting the volumes of organic waste send to landfills and improving sewage treatment operations.
- Methane cuts for the agricultural sector, which were estimated to be lower at 25%, could be achieved by managing herds more efficiently and switching feeds. These figures could be improved by encouraging people to eat less meat, which is a gradual process, that not necessarily everyone will support.
- Other ways to indirectly reduce methane emissions include switching to renewable energy and/or energy efficient alternatives to reduce the demand for fossil fuels, and to waste less food or to compost food waste rather than sending organic waste to landfills.
Should these methane cuts be achieved, the world could avoid around 0.3 degrees C of atmospheric warming by 2045, and will help to meet the Paris climate accord's goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees C.
Since methane emissions are also linked with ozone pollution at ground level, reducing methane emissions will not only be beneficial to slowing climate warming, but will also reduce air pollution. Slashing these emissions will therefore also have health benefits, preventing an estimated 260,000 premature deaths annually. As ozone is also responsible for damaging crops, reducing methane emissions would help prevent crop failures, saving 25 million tons of important food crops such as wheat, maize, rice, and soya beans from being lost each year.
Reducing methane emissions could be the silver bullet we need to implement to rapidly reverse climate warming. It offers many win-win scenarios that it just makes sense to do so for the future of humanity and the planet we call home.Download the full Global Methane Assessment Report here.
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