Methane cuts more crucial in climate fight than previously thought, UN finds

Louise Boyle
·2-min read
An upcoming UN report is set to emphasize the importance of addressing the potent pollutant gas, methane  (AFP via Getty Images)
An upcoming UN report is set to emphasize the importance of addressing the potent pollutant gas, methane (AFP via Getty Images)

Capping methane emissions are expected to play a vital role in tackling the climate crisis, an upcoming United Nations report will say.

The paper on the worldwide impact of methane was first revealed by The New York Times this weekend. The complete study is expected to be published in May by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

While conversations on tackling the climate crisis have centered around cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with about 80 times the impact on global heating as CO2 over 20 years.

Acting aggressively to reduce methane now could help the world drawdown its emissions more rapidly to meet 2050 climate targets.

The report is expected to highlight how the fossil fuel industry would incur little or no cost to reduce methane emissions.

The assessment will also reportedly reveal that continuing use of natural gas is at odds with achieving the 1.5 degrees Celsius (C) global temperature curb of the Paris Agreement (in the absence of new tech to remove emissions from the air).

Scientists warn that to avoid greater climate catastrophe, the average global temperature needs to remain well below 2C, with an aim of an increasingly ambitious 1.5C goal. The planet is currently on track for more than 3C of global heating by end of the century.

Methane emissions are produced by the fossil fuel industry along with waste and agriculture.

According to the report summary seen by The Times, cutting those emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2030 could help avoid almost 0.3C of heating around the 2040s.

At the White House climate summit last week, President Joe Biden spoke to the need to tackle methane.

“I see workers capping hundreds of thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up, and abandoned coal mines that need to be reclaimed, putting a stop to the methane leaks and protecting the health of our communities,” he said.

Part of President Biden’s $2.3 trillion proposed infrastructure bill would tackle methane emissions, allocating $16 billion to reclaiming abandoned wells and mines across the US.

Cementing shut drilling wells is a popular policy with both environmental groups — who want to cap sites which leak methane, brine and oil — and the fossil fuel industry who see it as an area for business development.

A more complex problem is tackling methane from the agricultural sector, in part from the digestive processes of ruminants like cows. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization notes that better feeds and feeding techniques can reduce these emissions.

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