Aug 9 (Reuters) – In four decades of climate negotiations, the world has focused intensely and exclusively on the most common climate-warming gas: carbon dioxide.
This year, scientists are pushing to focus on another powerful greenhouse gas – methane – as the planet’s best hope to ward off catastrophic global warming.
In addition to reducing CO2 emissions, countries must undertake âstrong, rapid and sustainable reductionsâ in methane emissions, warned scientists in a landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was published on Monday. Continue reading
The plea could cause consternation in countries that choose natural gas as a clean alternative to carbon emitting coal. This could also pose challenges to countries where agriculture and livestock, especially cattle, are important industries.
But while both methane and CO2 warm the atmosphere, the two greenhouse gases are not the same. A single CO2 molecule causes less warming than a methane molecule, but remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, while methane disappears within two decades.
The report is “putting a lot of pressure on the world to step up its methane game,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the IPCC report, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development in Washington, DC
“Reducing methane is the biggest and fastest strategy to slow down warming,” said Zaelke.
BUT WHY METHANE NOW?
Today’s global average temperature is already 1.1 Â° C above the pre-industrial average thanks to the emissions pumped into the air since the middle of the 19th century. But the world would have seen an additional 0.5 Â° C of warming if the sky weren’t filled with pollution, which reflects some of the solar radiation back into space, the report said.
If the world turns away from fossil fuels and tackles air pollution, those aerosols will go away – and temperatures could rise.
Rapidly reducing methane could “counteract” this effect while improving air quality, said Maisa Rojas Corradi, the abstract author of the IPCC report, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Chile.
According to the United Nations, methane emissions are responsible for around 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times.
But the role of methane, aerosols and other short-lived climate pollutants has not yet been discussed by the IPCC.
“The report draws attention to the immediate benefits of a significant reduction in methane, both from an atmospheric concentration point of view and the positive human health effects of improved air quality,” said Jane Lubchenco, deputy director of climate and environment at the Bureau for White House science and technology policy.
Recent technological developments and research suggest that methane emissions from oil and gas exploration, landfills, and ranching have likely been underestimated.
The report sends a loud signal to countries that produce and consume oil and gas that they “must incorporate aggressive plans to reduce oil and gas methane into their own climate strategies,” said Mark Brownstein, senior vice president of energy at the Environmental Defense Fund .
Landfill and energy company emissions might be the easiest to deal with, he said. Large-scale methane in agriculture is harder because there is no large-scale replacement technology.
The EU is proposing legislation this year that will force oil and gas companies to monitor and report methane emissions and repair leaks.
The United States is expected to have methane legislation stricter than the Obama administration-enacted rules, which were then rolled back under former President Donald Trump, by September.
The US and EU account for more than a third of global natural gas consumption.
But even large economies without strict oil and gas production or agriculture regulations, such as Brazil and Russia, are likely to generate high methane emissions, said IPCC co-author Paulo Artaxo, an environmental physicist at the University of Sao Paulo.
“(Methane) leakage from gas and oil wells is very difficult to quantify,” he said. If countries don’t search, they won’t find it.
Some environmental groups and government officials have called for a global methane deal, such as the Montreal Protocol, which combats ozone depletion.
Such an agreement could start with methane from the oil and gas industry, which already has technologies to help contain those emissions, said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based climate technology group.
“This is not rocket science. No exotic technology is required here,” he said. “So let’s start there.”
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Andrea Januta and Jake Spring; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker
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