This invisible, odorless gas is often not detected and leaks into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations. In the short-term, methane has a warming power that is 80 times greater than carbon dioxide. Scientists warn that atmospheric methane must be reduced quickly as the planet is rapidly approaching 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
NOAA reported that methane rose by 17 parts per million in 2021. The rise in 2020 — just above 15 parts per billion — was the previous annual record.
These figures are coming just days after a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report described how the world should address the crisis. The panel reported that, as the world barrels toward levels of global warming that will have irreversible impacts, there are economically viable solutions already out there including curbing methane emissions — the fastest way to turn down the heat.
According to the IPCC, the atmospheric concentration of methane is now higher than ever before in at least 800,000.
Methane, which is the main component in natural gas that heats our homes and cooks, can leak from oil and gaz drilling and pipelines transporting fossil fuels. It also comes from landfills and agricultural practices — and even from flatulent cows.
Climate experts view methane as a quick win. Global temperatures would not begin to cool if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide, CO2, tomorrow. This is due to how long the gas remains in the atmosphere. Xin Lan, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and the NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, stated that methane has a significant warming effect for nine years.
She explained that if we reduce methane emission now, we should see atmospheric levels dropping in a few short years. “This is slightly different than CO2, which stays within the atmosphere for thousands and years. It takes a lot more effort to reduce it.”
Lan explained that CO2 has a long life span, so once it’s released into the atmosphere, its impact is quiet lasting.
NOAA also reported Thursday that the average carbon dioxide level is 415 parts per million, and that it is continuing to rise. To put this in perspective, atmospheric carbon dioxide was just above 385 parts per million when President Barack Obama was elected. NOAA reported that this was the 10th consecutive year of an increase in CO2 levels exceeding 2 parts per million.
Robert Jackson, a Stanford University professor in environmental science, stated to CNN that while methane emissions reduction is important it is not enough. Global leaders cannot ignore carbon dioxide.
Jackson stated to CNN that “We must address both.” “Methane action is not enough to defer warming in the short term, but it will do the job.” Jackson stated to CNN. Long-term, carbon dioxide is still the most important greenhouse gases.
Jackson stated that natural gas is a major component of our daily lives. Therefore, it would be a good idea for cities and states to prioritize electrifying construction to reduce the dependence on natural gas for the future. Jackson also stated that polluting methane should be charged a price.
Jackson stated that there are fewer mechanisms to price methane pollution in the United States than for carbon dioxide. “We need to increase carbon removal incentives to methane removal.”
Rick Duke, the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate, said the Biden administration wants to see more policies to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas — and that addressing methane is a major priority.