If the world acts fast to cut methane emissions, we could dramatically slow global warming

Fast action to reduce methane emissions could dramatically slow global warming, experts have announced.

This conclusion by several leading academics and advocates in a paper in Environmental Research Letters came in a week in which methane made it into world headlines, with multiple high-level statements on cutting methane emissions made at US President Biden’s Climate Summit by world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden himself.

According to the paper’s authors, swift action now, using existing technologies, could cut methane emissions in half by 2030, slowing global warming by 30 per cent.

Methane flaring in gas production

Half of the strategies to reduce methane emissions considered in the paper would incur no net cost to implement; pursuing all available measures could avoid a quarter of a degree of warming by 2050 and half a degree by 2100.

The paper points out that fast action on methane can “considerably limit climate damages in the near-term” and cannot be delayed any longer.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Methane emissions come from the oil and gas sector, agriculture, waste and from natural sources. The gas is responsible for a quarter of warming experienced today and levels of methane in the atmosphere have been rising.

Methane, however, is a short-lived climate pollutant, so swift action now could have almost immediate benefits for the climate and quickly start curbing Earth’s warming.

Climate Campaigner Sophie Geoghegan said: “Fast action on climate change is becoming ever more important as our planet warms and greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise. Emissions need to be drastically reduced to limit the overall temperature rise to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement.

“Current methane concentrations are too high to meet even the 2°C warming scenarios. Delaying action on methane and other short-lived climate pollutants such as F-gas refrigerants could soon put the 1.5°C target beyond reach.”

EIA’s Climate Campaign is working to reduce methane emissions from the fossil fuel sector (oil, gas and coal) at the EU level. The EU imports more than 80 per cent of its fossil gas, 90 per cent of its crude oil and 40 per cent of its coal from non-EU countries, essentially outsourcing its methane emissions to them.

We are seeking legislation at the EU level to reduce methane emissions, not just from oil and gas produced in the EU but also from all oil and gas consumed in the EU, including imports.

A further report from the United Nations Environment Programme and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition is due out next week, showing that faster action on methane is possible and achievable – stay tuned.