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More than half of global methane emissions are caused by humans, accounting for a gross temperature increase of 0.5°C.

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Methane (CH4) is a Short-Lived Climate Pollutant (SLCP) and warms the planet over 80 times more than CO2 over a 20-year period. Although it is only present in the atmosphere for around 12 years, this colourless and odourless gas is extremely effective as a greenhouse gas in warming the planet in that short lifespan.

Methane is naturally occurring and is the main component of natural fossil gas, it is present on the seabed and in permafrost, as well as in swamps and bogs. It is produced by natural and anthropogenic biological processes during the decomposition or fermentation of organic material in the absence of oxygen, and is also produced by livestock, mainly through their natural enteric fermentation (burping when they digest food) and from manure.

More than half of global methane emissions are caused by humans, mainly from agriculture (animal husbandry, land use), the waste sector (landfills and wastewater) and the energy sector (extraction and transport of fossil fuels), which have already contributed to a gross temperature increase of 0.5°C.1

The increase in atmospheric methane observed over the last ten years follows the trend of the warmest scenario analysed by the IPCC, according to which global warming is estimated to reach 4.3°C by 2100.

To counteract this, the “Global Methane Pledge” was launched in 2021 by the United States and the EU. This Pledge, with a non-binding reduction target of 30 per cent by 2030, has been signed by more than 150 countries and is the first international initiative on methane.

Making immediate reductions is crucial for near-term climate goals as well as instrumental in preventing crossing irreversible tipping points. As temperatures rise and natural methane reservoirs such as moors, swamps and permafrost are affected, more methane will be released, leading to a further rise in temperature and more methane. From a European perspective, if methane emissions are not reduced quickly, it will also make it difficult to comply with the European Climate Law, which envisages Europe-wide climate neutrality by 2050. In addition to the negative effects on the climate, methane, as a precursor to ground-level ozone, is an air pollutant that damages human health, ecosystems and crops. Increased methane emissions can, therefore, lead to enormous crop losses, reduced plant growth and lower carbon sequestration in forests.



Image Credits:

1 Intro image: Corina Rainer on Unsplash

Main Sources of Methane Emission

The agricultural sector is responsible for around 54 per cent of all man-made methane emissions in the EU. There are already a number of cost-effective and immediately implementable solutions to reduce emissions. These include switching to a healthier and more sustainable diet, as well as reduced and improved consumption of meat and dairy products and technical measures in livestock farming.

The waste sector is the second largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions in the EU and contributes to around 27 per cent of all such emissions. The main strategies to reduce solid waste emissions are reduction, source separation and treatment of organic waste.

Around 20 per cent of global methane emissions are produced during the processing of gas, the extraction and processing of crude oil and coal and by fossil gas used in the petrochemical industry for the production of plastics. At EU level, excluding emissions associated with EU imports of oil, gas and coal, the figure is 17 per cent. However, a new analysis by the IEA shows that methane emissions from the energy sector are around 70 per cent higher than previously assumed.