Methane should be a bigger focus in the climate debate

Methane deserves more attention in the climate debate as it contributes to almost half of human-made global warming in the short-term. A new study shows that it is possible to significantly contribute to reduced global warming through the implementation of available technology that limits methane release to the atmosphere.

According to the study published by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), it is possible to achieve reduced global warming in the near term by targeting methane through the fast implementation of technology to prevent its release to the atmosphere. This could mitigate some of the otherwise very costly impacts of climate change that are expected over the next few decades.

“To develop policy strategies to mitigate climate change through reductions of global non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions like methane, we need detailed inventories of the sources and locations of current man-made emissions, build scenarios for expected developments in future emissions, assess the abatement potential of future emissions, and estimate the costs of reducing emissions. In this study, we looked at global methane emissions and technical abatement potentials and costs in the 2050 timeframe,” explained study lead author Lena Hoglund-Isaksson in a statement.

Using the IIASA Greenhouse Gases – Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies (GAINS) model, the researchers endeavored to find out how well the GAINS bottom-up inventory of methane emissions at country and source-sector level between 1990-2015 match top-down estimates of the global concentration of methane measured in the atmosphere. In addition, they wanted to see how much methane would be emitted globally until 2050 if we take no further measures to reduce emissions.

The results show that at the global level, the GAINS methane inventory matches the top-down estimate of human-made methane emissions’ contribution to the atmospheric concentration of methane quite well. A reasonable match between bottom-up and top-down budgets, both at the global and regional levels, is important for the confidence in bottom-up inventories, which are a prerequisite for policy strategies to be perceived as “certain enough” by stakeholders in climate mitigation.

The authors’ analysis revealed a strong increase in emissions after 2010, which confirms top-down measurements of increases in the atmospheric methane concentration in recent years. The findings further show that without measures to control methane emissions, there would be a global emission increase of about 30 per cent until 2050.

While it would technically be possible to remove about 38 per cent of these emissions by implementing available abatement technology, it would still mean that a significant amount of methane would be released between 2020 and 2050, making it impossible for the world to stay below 1.5°C warming.

Image credit: Genta, flickr/Creative Commons

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