Action on methane will save millions and slow warming – report

Powerful new research has revealed if action is taken human-caused methane emissions can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade.

The Global Methane Assessment Report, which has been welcomed by some of the world’s leading climate scientists, has been produced by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). If the reductions can be made it would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045 and would be consistent with keeping the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5˚C) within reach.

The assessment, for the first time, integrates the climate and air pollution costs and benefits from methane mitigation. A 45 per cent reduction would prevent 260 000 premature deaths, 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually.

“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. The benefits to society, economies, and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

“The need for action is urgent. Human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than any time since record keeping began in the 1980s,” the reported stated. “Despite a COVID-19 induced economic slowdown in 2020 that prevented another record year for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the amount of methane in the atmosphere shot up to record levels according to data recently released by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ).”

The report added that most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors: fossil fuels, waste, and agriculture. In the fossil fuel sector, oil and gas extraction, processing, and distribution account for 23 per cent, and coal mining accounts for 12 per cent of emissions. In the waste sector, landfills and wastewater make up about 20 per cent of emissions. In the agricultural sector, livestock emissions from manure and enteric fermentation represent roughly 32 per cent, and rice cultivation 8 per cent of emissions.

The assessment identifies measures that specifically target methane. By implementing these readily available solutions methane emissions can be reduced by 30 per cent by 2030. Most are in the fossil fuel sector where it is relatively easily to locate and fix methane leaks and reduce venting. There are also targeted measures that can be used in the waste and agriculture sectors.

“But targeted measures alone are not enough,” added the report. “Additional measures that do not specifically target methane, like a shift to renewable energy, residential and commercial energy efficiency, and a reduction in food loss and waste, can reduce methane emissions by a further 15 per cent by 2030. These additional measures are not necessarily harder or slower than targeted measures. Some of them may be much faster to implement, and all of them will produce multiple benefits.”

Drew Shindell, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, and is Professor of Climate Science at Duke University, said urgent steps must be taken to reduce methane emissions this decade.

“To achieve global climate goals, we must reduce methane emissions while also urgently reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” Dr Shindell said. “The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available.”

President Vladimir Putin, Russia, called for global action on methane saying, “we must take into account absolutely every cause of global warming” and “it would be extremely important to develop broad and effective international cooperation in the calculation and monitoring of all polluting emissions into the atmosphere.”

Scientists have welcomed the report and its call for action.

Dr Michelle Cain, Lecturer in Environmental Data Analytics at Cranfield University, said: “This report focusses on how much impact methane emissions cuts can have on the temperature. This is really important, because cutting methane emissions has rapid consequences for the temperature as it is a potent greenhouse gas, but short-lived in the atmosphere. This means that we can cut the global warming that methane is responsible for in the coming decades by cutting methane emissions – the modelling in the report shows temperatures 0.28C lower in 2030 when their suggested, currently available, measures are implemented. This is a huge lever, as CO2 emissions will continue driving temperatures upwards until they reach net-zero.

“The report also shows the benefits to health of reducing methane. This climate and health impact is well understood, and the basic picture been known for many years. What is less clear is how to enact these changes in all sectors across the world.”

“Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins. This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane – a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas – will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too,” explained Prof Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management and Executive Director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, University of Edinburgh.

“Meeting the Paris Climate Goals will need every climate action trick in the book. Cutting methane emissions should be on page 1.”

Prof Grant Allen, Professor of Atmospheric Physics, University of Manchester, said: “This UN report identifies available measures that could be implemented quickly (by 2030) to reduce methane emissions by 45% compared with today. Many of these measures are easy to implement right away, such as better controlling unnecessary leaks of methane from the oil and gas industry. Others may require rapid policy action and changes in how we use energy from natural gas. The report shows that if we can take global action to achieve such a reduction, we could avoid up to 0.3C of warming by the 2040s.

“To be clear, this does not mean that cutting methane emissions alone can solve the warming problem; we must also continue to reduce CO2 emissions to meet Paris Agreement targets and avoid dangerous warming. But it does mean that we can help to quickly slow the rate of global temperature increase and avoid some significant degree of warming in the near future. But achieving this will require global action.”

“The need for action is urgent. Human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than any time since record keeping began in the 1980s,” the reported stated. “Despite a COVID-19 induced economic slowdown in 2020 that prevented another record year for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the amount of methane in the atmosphere shot up to record levels according to data recently released by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ).”

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