Methane: A Potent Greenhouse Gas Taking Center Stage at Climate Talks

While carbon dioxide (CO2) dominates discussions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, another potent culprit, methane, is gaining traction. This week, a global forum in Geneva will focus on tackling methane emissions, a crucial step in slowing climate change.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, packs a powerful punch. Though short-lived in the atmosphere (around 10 years), its heat-trapping ability is 28 times greater than CO2 over a century (and a whopping 80 times greater over 20 years). This makes it a significant contributor to global warming, responsible for roughly 30% of the rise in temperatures since pre-industrial times.

Human activities are responsible for about 60% of methane emissions, with the rest stemming from natural sources like wetlands. Agriculture takes the lead, with livestock (cows and sheep) and rice cultivation being the biggest offenders.

The energy sector is another major contributor, with methane leaking from pipelines and infrastructure, or being released during maintenance. A recent study revealed that oil and gas projects in the US emit three times more methane than government estimates. Landfills also contribute significantly as waste decomposes.

The good news? Rapid cuts in methane emissions, particularly from the fossil fuel sector, could prevent significant warming by mid-century. The IEA estimates this impact could be greater than removing all cars and trucks from the road globally.

Fortunately, solutions exist. Repairing leaky infrastructure, eliminating routine gas flaring during maintenance, and adopting new technologies are cost-effective ways to tackle methane emissions in the energy sector. The industry can avoid 40% of its emissions at no net cost, according to the IEA.

In agriculture, modifying animal diets and changing water management practices in rice fields offer promising solutions.

While a joint US-EU pledge aiming for a 30% global reduction in methane emissions by 2030 has garnered support from 150 countries, major emitters like China, India, and Russia haven't signed on. Their participation is crucial for significant progress.

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