The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition report say that slashing methane emissions is an important step to slow down global warming.
According to the ‘Global Methane Assessment, Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions’ report:
“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 1.5C. 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 0.3C of global warming by the 2040s and complement all long-term climate change mitigation efforts. It would also, each year, prevent 255 000 premature deaths, 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 26 million tonnes of cross losses globally”.
The report shows the opportunities available to reduce methane, how to do it, and why acting now matters.
According to the report, the atmospheric concentration of methane in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly compared to the 1980s, and half of it comes from human activities from fossil fuels, waste management, and agriculture practices.
Compared with carbon dioxide, methane stays relatively shorter in the atmosphere at about 12 years; however, it is ten times more potent at warming the atmosphere than CO2.
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 well-being of everybody on the planet over the next 20 to 30 years. 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” (Carrington, 2021).
The report finds that 42% of methane emissions come from agriculture, mainly from cattle burps, manure, and paddy fields. Whether intentional or unintentional, Methane leaks from fossil drilling sites, coal mines and pipes also contribute to 36% and landfills sites at 18%.
The report highlights the good news that rapid and meaningful GHG reduction is not only possible through existing technologies but is also very cost-effective. In addition to saving money, cutting methane emissions could protect human health and crop yields. Methane causes the formation of ground-level ozone – a harmful pollutant to the human body and suppresses plants, forests, and crop growth and yields.
The fossil fuel sector presents the greatest potential for methane reductions at 60%, followed by the waste sector at 35%, and the agriculture sector at 25%.
Plugging leaks in the oil and gas production and transmission can significantly reduce methane emissions at a minimal cost.
It warns of the expansion of natural gas as detrimental to achieving the 1.5 C warming limits without the “massive-scale deployment of unproven carbon removal technologies”. The waste sector could reduce emissions through a better sewer and waste treatment and disposal globally.
Improved management of rice paddies can slash emissions, but the largest methane emitters – livestock is much harder to decrease.
Other measures that do not specifically target methane can also help cut down methane emissions. The report says that these include reducing demand for fossil fuels by increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency, reducing food waste and loss, improving livestock management, and adopting a lower meat and dairy diet.
To read the entire report, click the link below:
United Nations Environment Programme and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (2021). Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme. Retrieved from https://www.unep.org/resources/report/global-methane-assessment-benefits-and-costs-mitigating-methane-emissions
Carrington, D. (2021, May 6). Cutting methane emissions is quickest way to slow global heating – UN report. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/may/06/cut-methane-emissions-rapidly-fight-climate-disasters-un-report-greenhouse-gas-global-heating