climate change

UN report warns of rising methane emissions

Methane bubbles are seen in an area of marshland at a research post at Stordalen Mire near Abisko, Sweden. Photo credit: Reuters / Hannah McKay.

By Anders Lorenzen

A UN report has concluded that the world must with urgency cut methane emissions in order to tackle the climate crisis. 

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) about 86 times as powerful as CO2, but much more short lived, making it the second-largest contributor to climate change. As a result, cuts to methane emissions will have a much faster impact on climate change than cuts to CO2 emissions.

The UN report outlined that by using technologies available today the world could cut methane emissions driven by human activities by up to 45% by 2030 and avoid nearly 0.3 degree of warming by the 2040’s. It also warned that failure to do so could push climate goals out of reach.

Rising faster than ever

In the global picture, methane emissions from human activities are rising faster now than ever since records began in the 1980’s. Scientists say that a 40-45% cut in methane emissions, alongside steep cuts in CO2 emissions, are required by 2030 to limit climate change to a level that is deemed safe.

Recently some governments have turned their attention to methane emission cuts alongside  CO2 cuts.

Policy efforts

A bill was just passed in the US Senate which would reinstate Obama era methane cuts, with the Biden Administration also due to introduce regulations in September. Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity said: “Using affordable solutions that already exist to cut fossil fuel methane leakage is long overdue. But it’s critical that cutting that leakage isn’t manipulated into greenwashing and regulatory loopholes that enable more oil and gas production. Averting climate catastrophe requires a rapid drawdown of fossil fuel production and use, with methane reductions as a jumpstart.” 

And policymakers in the European Union (EU) are set to propose methane regulations this year to limit emissions. It is estimated that the proposal would include forcing oil and gas companies to deal with methane leaks in their infrastructure.

Johan Kuylenstierna, research leader at the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the reports 20 authors said: “ If we want to reduce the rate of warming in the near term, methane is the way to do it.” 

Globally, agriculture accounts for 40% of methane emissions from human activities, while fossil fuels contribute 35% and waste sources such as landfills account for 20%, the report said.

The biggest opportunities for cutting emissions this decade lie within the activities of the fossil fuel industry, the report set out, with actions such as plugging infrastructure leaks being relatively easy and low-cost.

However, tackling emissions from agriculture, for example by reducing global meat consumption, is considered harder because it requires changes to people’s behaviour and lifestyles, though campaigners might argue that yet again animal agriculture receives a get out of jail card when it comes to action on climate change.

Climate scientists are increasingly worried that even following an atypical  ‘pandemic’ year, concentrations of both CO2 and methane in the atmosphere continued to build up. 

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