DiscourseMay 7, 2021 10:48:16 AMT
Methane, a major component of natural gas, is a major climate problem than the world predicts, and reducing its emissions is crucial to slowing global warming, new UN report warn. Greenhouse gas is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide warming the planet, and its concentration in the atmosphere is growing faster than at any time since accounting began in the 1980s.
However, methane is much more than a climate problem, and here the report gets interest. As methane emissions fall, the world will rapidly reap a number of benefits for both health and the climate. In most cases, the benefits of the actions far outweigh the costs – in fact, many of them make money.
Lead author of the report Drew Shindellthe climate scientist and physicist explained the findings and the urgency.
What are the key lessons from the methane report?
The best takeaway is that methane will rise very quickly and will need to fall by almost half by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius if we hope to stay on the lowest path. This means we have a quick turnaround.
The good news is that we have a lot to gain by reducing these emissions.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but it is also a precursor to surface ozone, which is a toxic air pollutant. Reducing methane improves the quality of the air we breathe while reducing climate change, and the results are almost immediate.
Many methane reduction efforts also save money because methane is inherently valuable. If you capture methane from a landfill, you have a source of income there. Take it from the leaking pipelines, and it pays for itself because that’s the main thing about these pipelines – they carry methane as natural gas.
With technology already available, the world can reduce methane emissions from fossil fuels, agriculture and rotten by 45 percent in a decade. It would avoid a 0.3 degree Celsius (0.5 F) warm-up, which may not sound like much, but it’s a fifth The budget of the Paris Climate Agreement 1.5 C.
So you get climate benefits, you get public health benefits, and it’s also a financial gain for companies that capture methane.
It’s not like this is rocket science. Much of the methane released comes from natural gas piping and storage, oil and gas pumping and landfills – and all of these problems we know how to fix.
How does methane cutting improve health?
Methane causes ground-level ozone, which contributes to many respiratory problemsincluding pediatric asthma, respiratory infections, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. There is pretty solid evidence that it can too exacerbates cardiovascular disease.
Both methane and ozone are also greenhouse gases that cause warming, which poses more health risks, especially through heat exposure.
We looked medical research and modeling, and used it to find out what was at stake. We found that out of a million tonnes of methane released, about 1,430 people die prematurely, there are about 4,000 asthma-related emergencies and 300 million hours are lost due to health effects. Put it in context, about 370 million tons methane is released annually due to human activity.
If you reduce methane emissions in 2022, you will see an ozone response in 2022, while climate impacts will have to wait until the climate system adapts for at least a decade.
Why are methane emissions so fast?
We know that global emissions are rising. It is easy to measure without chemical samples, and satellites can monitor large methane sources. But which sources are most responsible is a tougher question.
Global methane emissions were fairly steady about 15 to 20 years ago, and then they began to sneak. Now, especially in the last five years or so, they have risen rapidly.
Some studies suggest an increase hydraulic fracturing, which rapidly expanded gas production and is roughly similar to recent methane growth. Others say livestock farming and increasing global demand for meat played a big role. Some suggest from natural sources – wetlands in the tropics that are particularly responsive to climate change.
The most likely scenario is that it is a combination of all three.
The most important thing is that total methane emissions must be reduced slow down climate change. If growth is due to fossil fuels or waste or livestock, we need to go after human sources. If it comes from natural systems that respond to climate change, we still have to respect these human sources of methane. Reducing methane emissions is the strongest lever we have to slow down feedback.
If cutting methane pays for itself and the technology exists, why not do more?
The oil and gas industry itself is divided into methane. Many large companies supported U.S. methane emissions regulations tThe Obama administration put on a hat – and later returned by the Trump administration – because they know that capturing methane costs money. It is not a heavy financial burden for them, and supporting it can improve the image of the industry.
However, for small operators, the initial cost of equipment and the need to hire labor to inspect pipelines can be more difficult.
For example, if a company plans to repair a pipeline, it can shut down a section, bring in a compressor, and pump all the extra gas farther along the line before starting to work with it. It requires the acquisition of a compressor and the movement of trucks and maintenance of personnel. Many studies have found it these investments pay for itself due to the value of methane saved in a few years. But many small operators find it simpler and cheaper to release gas only into the atmosphere when they want to work on the pipeline.
Landfills and waste have a similar problem. When organic matter such as food waste decomposes, it releases methane. Many landfills in developed countries already capture some of the methane gas. But in many developing countries, there are no landfills or even rubbish bins, which makes biogas recovery impossible.
In addition to technical solutions, the report lists a few recommendations that can be applied to landfills everywhere, including better waste sorting to keep organic materials from landfills and used as compost, and reducing food waste in general.
There are also straightforward solutions in agriculture. Eating a healthy diet, which for many people means cutting off extra red meat, would greatly reduce the number of animals produced for slaughter. Encouraging changes in food consumption can be politically hungry, but this is a huge source of emissions. We are not going to keep the warming below 1.5 ° C without handling it.
What does this mean for natural gas as an energy source?
Report shows why the addition of natural gas is incompatible with keeping the heating below 1.5 ° C.
The only way to continue using natural gas well into the future is pull the carbon out of the air. It is a huge risk because it is assumed that we will compensate for today’s damage later. If that technology turns out to be too expensive or not socially acceptable, or it simply doesn’t work the way we think it works, we can’t go back in time and fix the mess.
As the report explains, the world must stop building fossil fuel infrastructure. The better route is to be responsible now and take care of the climate instead of relying on cleaning up clutter later.
Drew Shindell, Professor of Climate Science, Duke University