The world has focused aggressively and entirely on the most abundant climate-warming gas: carbon dioxide, throughout four decades of climate negotiations.
This year, scientists are emphasizing the importance of focusing on another potent greenhouse gas, methane, as the planet’s greatest hope for avoiding catastrophic global warming.
In addition to cutting CO2 emissions, countries must undertake “strong, rapid, and persistent reductions” in methane emissions, scientists say in a historic study from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The request may generate controversy in countries that choose natural gas to CO2-emitting coal as a cleaner alternative. It might also pose problems for countries that rely heavily on agriculture and livestock, particularly cattle.
However, while both methane and CO2 warm the atmosphere, they are not the same greenhouse gases. A single CO2 molecule generates less warmth than a single methane molecule, but it remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, whereas methane vanishes in two decades.
Because of emissions blasted into the atmosphere since the mid-1800s, today’s average global temperature is already 1.1 degrees Celsius higher than the preindustrial norm. However, the planet would have warmed an additional 0.5 degrees Celsius if the sky had not been clogged with pollution, which reflected some of the sun’s rays back into space, according to the paper.
Those aerosols will vanish as the world moves away from fossil fuels and tackles air pollution, causing temperatures to rise.
According to IPCC report summary author Maisa Rojas Corradi, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Chile, lowering methane quickly could “counteract” this effect while also improving air quality.
According to the United Nations, methane emissions are responsible for roughly 30% of global warming since the pre-industrial era.
However, the IPCC had not previously addressed the role of methane, aerosols, and other short-lived climate pollutants.
Methane emissions from oil and gas extraction, landfills, and livestock have likely been underestimated, according to modern technologies and research.
The research delivers a strong message to countries that produce and consume oil and gas, urging them to implement aggressive oil and gas methane reduction programmes into their own climate strategy.
Landfill and energy industry emissions will be the easiest to address. Agricultural methane on a large scale is more difficult due to the lack of scaled-up replacement technology.
This year, the EU will propose legislation requiring oil and gas corporations to monitor and report methane emissions, as well as to rectify any leaks.
By September, the US is anticipated to release tougher methane regulations than those released by the Obama administration, which was later pushed down by former President Donald Trump. The United States and the European Union account for more than a third of worldwide natural gas consumption.
However, huge economies like Brazil and Russia, which do not have strong limits on oil and gas production or agriculture, are expected to be high methane emitters. It’s difficult to assess methane leakage from gas and oil wells. Countries will not find it if they do not look for it.
Environmentalists and government officials have called for a global accord on methane, similar to the Montreal Protocol on ozone depletion. An agreement like this could start with methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, which already has equipment in place to reduce them.