Assessing Methane’s Potency and Long-Term Effects on the Environment
by Kat Sarmiento
When talking about climate change and/or global warming, the greenhouse effect is inevitably brought to the table. The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon that happens in order to sustain life on Earth. However, a notable increase in the concentration of greenhouse gasses (GHG) due to various and innovative human activities creates an imbalance on the planet.
And when asked about greenhouse gasses, the most common answer would be carbon dioxide (CO2). It is a fact that carbon dioxide can be considered as the primary greenhouse gas as it occurs naturally in Earth’s carbon cycle. Beyond this type of gas that is almost known to all, is another harmful contributor to global warming. Often overlooked, even by rule-makers themselves, is methane (CH4).
If you are not that familiar with the topic yet or simply want to learn more about it, this article is perfect for you!
All About Methane
Methane (CH4) is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2). It is also one of the fastest-growing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere as human-related activities cause two-thirds of methane emissions.
In addition, methane has more than 80x warming power than carbon dioxide. It accounts for about 20% of global emissions, and 30% of global warming since they started to keep records in the 1980s. As a matter of fact, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration observed that even when the pandemic lockdowns caused a deceleration in carbon dioxide emissions, the emissions of methane in the atmosphere shot up.
The Global Methane Budget, which is the most recent comprehensive assessment of methane emissions yet, suggests that about 580 million tonnes is the yearly global CH4 emission. This includes both natural sources of around 40%, and anthropogenic emissions, or those which originate from human activity, take up the remaining 60%. Agriculture is the biggest anthropogenic source, followed by the energy sector, which includes coal, oil, natural gas, and biofuels emissions.
Effects and Impacts of Methane Emissions
On the Environment
As it is the second biggest contributor to trapping the heat within the planet needlessly, the mere presence of methane in the atmosphere can affect the concentration of other greenhouse gasses. And through oxidization—the process of methane leaving the atmosphere—water vapor and carbon dioxide are formed. This shows that methane does not only contribute to global warming directly but also indirectly.
Global warming, a byproduct of climate change, leads to these: hotter temperatures, more droughts and heat waves, melting of ice sheets and glaciers, and disruption of the ecological equilibrium.
Methane is the primary contributor to the creation of a hazardous air pollutant called ‘ground-level (tropospheric) ozone.’ Although methane does not cause direct harm to our health, the Climate & Clean Air Coalition reported that the ozone is responsible for causing a million premature respiratory deaths annually—about half of such deaths are caused by methane.
Poorer air quality equates to poorer quality of life, not just for humans but also for other living things who rely on this element. Aside from respiratory-related diseases and deaths, it can also lead to heart complications and mind development.
What can we do?
Despite the looming effects of increased methane emissions, there is a silver lining to this. Because however powerful the greenhouse gas methane may be, it is short-lived (12 years) compared to carbon dioxide’s range of 300 to 1000 years. Thus, achieving significant reductions would also create a significant effect on warming potential in the atmosphere.
Although some studies have shown that international policies built around climate action are still lacking regarding methane emissions, now is the time to make its importance known.
Stated below are some of the actions and initiatives we can take to reduce our methane emissions:
- Raise awareness about the scale and impact of methane emissions.
- Make the corporations and businesses responsible. Yes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR); No to greenwashing.
- Upgrade equipment used in producing, storing, and transporting oil and natural gas to avoid or detect leaks that contribute to CH4 emissions.
- Modify animal feeding practices and manure management strategies in the agriculture industry.
- Shift towards plant-rich diets or embracing alternatives of protein.
- Invest in studies, new technologies, or reform existing systems into a more sustainable one.
- Curb flares from oil wells or coal mines, and capture the methane for later use by installing new technologies or applying sustainable practices.
- Capture landfill CH4 for conversion to renewable energy during waste management.
On a bigger scale, more than 100 countries have taken on the Global Methane Pledge, along with the support of various organizations. There’s the Paris Agreement, the Global Methane Initiative, and the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) too.
Albeit it is important to tackle those issues in the frontline, this article shows as a reminder to not forget the supporting acts as well. Just like methane, even though they are far behind carbon dioxide by numbers, their accompanying solutions can be as revolutionary as well. Especially in climate action, where time is essential and every effort matters.
About the author
Kat writes articles with the hopes of reaching out to more people. Her writing is focused on lifestyle, science, and smart hacks, that will definitely (well, hopefully) be useful to her readers.