Friday, December 8

Methane pollution is higher than previously believed and is already a concern as much as CO2

Gas emissions into the atmosphere by industry. / EFE/GENE WONG

A report reveals that the energy industry has more weight in the emissions of this greenhouse gas than some official figures indicate

CO2 has more prominence than methane when it comes to greenhouse gases that are accelerating global warming on planet Earth. At most, this second jumps to the headlines when talking about emissions from cattle farms. However, more and more expert voices claim the importance of this gas when proposing solutions to curb climate change.

report The most recent (February 2022) of the International Energy Agency ensures that methane is responsible for 30% of the increase in temperatures since the Industrial Revolution began.

But the truth is that its weight in the set of polluting gases may be greater than previously believed. This has been highlighted
another recent report which has used satellite images to measure methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The conclusion reached is that it is greater than recognized. Those large unreported methane emitters account for at least 10% of official oil and gas methane emissions in the top six producing countries.

Translated into numbers, each ton of methane not included in the official reports would be equivalent to 4,400 dollars of impact on the climate and surface ozone, which affect human health, work productivity or crop yields, among others.

What is it and where is it produced?

Methane is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced in nature from the anaerobic putrefaction of plants. This natural process can be harnessed to produce biogas and can constitute up to 97% of natural gas. In coal mines it is called firedamp and it is very dangerous due to its ease of igniting.

Among the emission sources of natural origin, the decomposition of organic waste (30%), swamps (23%), the extraction of fossil fuels (20%) and the digestion processes of animals, especially livestock ( 17%).

Why is it more important than you think?

Methane is considered the second greenhouse gas with the greatest impact. However, historically it has not been given as much importance as CO2.

One and the other have different behavior. Carbon dioxide is the longest-lived and most widespread pollutant. The rest, including methane, are short-lived and disappear from the atmosphere relatively quickly. However, scientists have shown that it is much more effective at trapping solar radiation and contributing more powerfully to warming. It has been calculated that it has 36 times more potential. Hence the importance of fighting it almost at the same level as the famous CO2.

To this end, the European Union has a
Methane Strategy which dates from 2020. In addition, it is preparing new legislation that focuses on this gas and with which it intends to reduce its emissions.

The energy sector (which includes oil, natural gas, coal and bioenergy) is once again in the lead in terms of responsibility for emitting methane.

According to analysis by the International Energy Agency, about 40% of methane emissions come from energy. For this reason, this organization believes that being aware of this problem is a great opportunity to limit global warming “because the ways to reduce them are well known and, often, profitable,” defends the report.

Livestock, at the bottom of emissions

Why is it common to blame cows for being largely responsible for the evils of methane? Because although agriculture is not the main culprit, it is more difficult to reduce the methane emissions it emits and the combined effect of the agricultural sector is considered to be very important. In other words, any change, no matter how small, in this sector can have a great impact.

Regarding these necessary gestures, at COP26 the countries reached an agreement to reduce methane emissions by 30% between now and 2030, materialized in the
Global Methane Initiative.

In Europe, the strategy to achieve compliance with this pact will focus on reducing methane emissions in the energy, agriculture and waste sectors, since these areas represent almost all of the methane emissions in the Old Continent.

The approach is to launch specific actions in each economic sector and take advantage of synergies between sectors (such as, for example, through the production of biomethane).

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