When we talk about emissions, we need to talk about methane

Within the combat in opposition to local weather change, CO2 will get extra consideration than every other greenhouse fuel. That’s not stunning: It’s the most important driver of world warming, and each pound of CO2 emitted now shall be round for hundreds of years. However the current report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Local weather Change additionally spelled out the significance of lowering the emissions of methane, an much more potent fuel. And since methane doesn’t final as lengthy within the environment, any steep cuts in methane emissions now may help purchase the world a bit of extra time as we concurrently work to reduce CO2.

“Methane is the following essential, quick, climate-stabilization prize,” Rick Duke, White Home liaison for the Particular Presidential Envoy for Local weather Change, mentioned at a press convention after the IPCC report was launched. “There’s merely nothing that comes shut for securing our near-term local weather future, shopping for us essential time to decarbonize vitality and to develop superior choices like negative-emissions applied sciences.”

Methane, which comes from leaks in oil and fuel manufacturing, rotting meals in landfills, cow burps, and different sources, traps round 80 instances as a lot warmth as CO2 when it’s first emitted. However in contrast to CO2, it’s additionally gone from the air in roughly 12 years (as soon as it rises excessive sufficient, it reacts with different chemical substances within the environment and breaks down).


“Half of right this moment’s warming that we’re experiencing from CO2 is from 100-plus years of burning fossil fuels and burning down forests,” says Ilissa Ocko, a senior local weather scientist on the Environmental Protection Fund. “So it’s this buildup over time. Methane solely lasts within the environment for round a decade.” Proper now, methane is answerable for greater than 1 / 4 of the worldwide warming that we’re experiencing, and the impacts from lowering it will probably present up sooner than cuts in CO2.

In a study printed earlier this 12 months, Ocko and different scientists checked out present options for lowering methane emissions and located that it could be potential to reduce emissions in half this decade. As the entire focus of methane drops, it could have a cooling impact that might assist counteract the general development. It could possibly’t reverse international warming, since CO2 emissions are nonetheless rising. However the researchers calculated that it may decelerate international warming by 30%.

Among the modifications wanted are simple to make and have little or no value, and the bulk need to occur within the oil and fuel sector. “As soon as you realize the place the emissions are coming from within the fuel sector, it may be quite simple and simple to cut back the emissions,” Ocko says. “It may be so simple as simply closing a vent or tightening a valve. There are actually easy measures that may be completed which are mainly plumbing. However the motive why they haven’t been completed is as a result of it has been a problem to establish the place the emissions are coming from.” Now, she says, it’s getting simpler to monitor methane emissions by distant sensing instruments. The Environmental Protection Fund, for instance, is working with companions to launch a methane-tracking satellite in 2022 that may share information about emitters publicly.

At landfills, the place rotting rubbish releases methane, it’s potential to make use of pipes to seize the fuel and use it to make electrical energy or gas. Composting meals waste additionally considerably reduces methane. On farms, altering the food plan for livestock—resembling cattle feed dietary supplements produced from seaweed that may cut back cow burps—additionally reduces methane emissions. Manure will be transformed into vitality. Rice farmers can use methods like including compost to cut back methane emissions from rice paddies. Sooner or later, direct air seize machines may additionally probably be used to pull methane from the air in the identical manner that early machines are already capturing CO2.

Another methane emissions are being pushed immediately by international warming, as hotter temperatures launch extra methane from wetlands and melting permafrost—much more motive to do all the things potential to decelerate warming now.

Methane didn’t initially get as a lot consideration as CO2 due to the best way that scientists selected to calculate “international warming potential”: If you happen to have a look at a longtime horizon, methane doesn’t seem to be fairly as unhealthy because it truly is. It was solely as the recognition of pure fuel grew—paradoxically, as a result of it was supposed to be a extra climate-friendly choice than coal—that scientists started specializing in methane. Partly due to the expansion of pure fuel, methane emissions have grown shortly within the final decade.

Within the U.S., President Joe Biden has requested the Environmental Safety Company to suggest new laws to reduce methane leaks and flaring from oil and fuel. He additionally desires to cap hundreds of leaking, deserted oil and fuel wells, an initiative that’s half of the present funds reconciliation invoice.


Ocko argues that governments additionally need to set clear targets to reduce whole methane emissions so that each one the options which are possible now are applied. “I believe if we set methane targets by nation, or as a part of the Paris Settlement,” she says, “it could actually velocity up the implementation of those choices. As a result of these choices exist.”