Cattle, rotting waste and fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases responsible for 30% of the global heating.
A new UN report states that cutting methane emissions is important to handling the climate crisis and quickly curbing extreme weather events already affecting people all over the world.
2020 saw a record rise in the amount of powerful greenhouse gas emitted by the cattle, rotting waste and fossil fuel industry. According to Inger Andersen, the UN’s environment chief, cutting it is the strongest action available to slow worldwide heating in the near term.
The new UN report discovered that methane emissions can be halved by 2030 with existing technology and at a reasonable cost. A large proportion of the actions involved will actually make money (capturing methane gas leaks at fossil fuel sites).
If the cuts are achieved it would avoid almost 0.3C of global heating by 2045 and ensure the world remains on track to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to just 1.5C. Methane cuts can also cut down on air pollution which could help prevent lost crops and premature deaths.
Methane is 84 times more powerful in trapping heat compared to carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and has caused around 30% of global heating to date. However, it does break down in the atmosphere within 10 years, compared to CO2, which remains in the air for centuries.
Lowering carbon emissions remains integral to ending the climate emergency, however, certain experts liken the reduction of CO2 in the air to the slow process involved in stopping a super tanker, while lowering methane is akin to switching a speedboat’s engine off and bringing it to a rapid halt.
Prof Drew Shindell, at Duke University, who led the UN report, said: “We’re seeing so many aspects of climate change manifest themselves in the real world faster than our projections,” such as increasing heatwaves, wildfires, droughts and intense storms. “We don’t have a lot we can do about that, other than this powerful lever on near-term climate of reducing methane. We should do this for the wellbeing of everybody on the planet over the next 20 to 30 years.”
“Methane emissions are increasing faster now than at any time in nearly 40 years of the observational record,” he said. “Despite Covid … methane shot upwards – it’s going in the wrong direction very, very rapidly.”
The surge is as a result of the increased use of fossil fuels, particularly gas produced by fracking, and probably more emissions from wetlands as they heat up. Shindell added:
“It’s vital to reduce methane for the sake of near-term climate change… But it’s also vital to reduce CO2 for the sake of long-term climate change. The good news is that most of the required actions [to cut methane] also bring health and financial benefits.”
Andersen was quoted saying “Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”
The report was produced by the UN and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and it discovered that 42% of human-caused methane emissions are actually derived from agriculture, mostly from burping livestock, paddy fields and its manure. Unintentional and intentional leaks of methane from fossil fuel drilling sites, pipelines and coalmines produce 36% of the total, with waste dumps responsible for another 18%.
The report also found cost-effective and feasible methane cuts of about 60% could be made from fossil fuel procedures by eliminating the venting of unwanted gas and correctly sealing equipment.