“The atmospheric concentration of methane has more than doubled since pre-industrial times. Methane is second only to carbon dioxide (CO2) in driving climate change. More than half of global methane emissions stem from human activities in three sectors: fossil fuels (35% of human-caused emissions), waste (20%) and agriculture (40%).” That is from a new report from the United Nations – the Global Methane Assessment. (Image, right)

Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon, consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane is flammable, and is used as a fuel worldwide. It is a principal component of natural gas. Burning methane in the presence of oxygen releases carbon dioxide and water vapor. (Source)

Methane has been percolating in public policy debates for years now. This report could make that debate more active.

The report says, “Reducing human-caused methane emissions is one of the most cost-effective strategies to rapidly reduce the rate of warming and contribute significantly to global efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Available targeted methane measures, together with additional measures that contribute to priority development goals, can simultaneously reduce human-caused methane emissions by as much as 45 per cent, or 180 million tonnes a year (Mt/yr) by 2030. This will avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s and complement all long-term climate change mitigation efforts.”

Controlling methane “can prevent 255 000 premature deaths, 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labor from extreme heat, and 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally,” says the UN report.

“The report comes after methane emissions surged to record highs last year despite worldwide lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic, according to research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Methane emissions are also rising faster than ever since record-keeping began in the 1980s.” reported CNBC.

The UN report says the specific measures to curtail methane emissions include the following:

Oil, gas and coal: The fossil fuel sector has the greatest potential for targeted mitigation by 2030. Readily available targeted measures could reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector by 29–57 Mt/yr and from the coal sector by 12–25 Mt/yr. Up to 80 per cent of oil and gas measures and up to 98 per cent of coal measures could be implemented at negative or low cost.

Waste: Existing targeted measures could reduce methane emissions from the waste sector by 29–36 Mt/yr by 2030. The greatest potential is in improved treatment and disposal of solid waste. As much as 60 per cent of waste-sector targeted measures have either negative or low cost.

Agriculture: Existing targeted measures could reduce methane emissions from the agricultural sector by around 30 Mt/yr by 2030. Three behavioral changes, reducing food waste and loss, improving livestock management, and the adoption of healthy diets (vegetarian or with a lower meat and dairy content) could reduce methane emissions by 65–80 Mt/yr over the next few decades.

Why we will hear more about methane control: “Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” says Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme.

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Feature image is a home stove burner. “According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methane accounts for about 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities like natural gas systems, landfills, coal mining and manure-management systems. But at the same time, methane — especially in natural gas — is an important fuel source, one that produces fewer greenhouse gases when burned than coal or oil.” (Text source)