How Methane Leaks Accelerate Global Warming

Methane leaks have become a major threat to the global climate, with the latest incident involving two Russian gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea which have been at the center of an energy crisis since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, can leak from pipelines and drilling sites, and is also emitted from agricultural and food waste.

Research increasingly shows that reducing methane emissions is vital to limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less above pre-industrial times to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

After decades of focusing on carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, policymakers have begun to recognize the threat posed by methane, and last year more than 100 nations have signed a pledge reduce methane emissions by 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

matter of urgency

After being largely ignored for decades, scientists now know that methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide as a short-term greenhouse gas, even if it only persists in the atmosphere for a decade before to decompose while the CO2 persists for centuries.

Scientists normally compare the warming effects of methane and carbon dioxide over a century, and on that timescale, methane is 28 times worse. Over 20 years, however, methane is 80 times worse, according to recent research.

It matters because the world is on track to exceed the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to below 2 degrees in just a few decades.

“If I thought we had 100 years to deal with climate change, I’d be much more relaxed about it,” said carbon footprint expert and author Mike Berners-Lee. “If you’re interested in the climate impacts we’ll experience in 2050…you’ll absolutely scream about methane emissions.”

The anticipated climate impact of methane is doubly worrying, as the world is closer than previously thought to crossing “tipping points” during which climate feedback loops kick in for global warming to be self-sustaining.

A study in september have suggested that some of the events that could trigger these feedback loops, such as the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet or the melting arctic permafrostare imminent.

Where is that from

Three-fifths of estimated global methane emissions come from human activity; the rest from natural sources such as wetlands.

Of man-made emissions, two-thirds come from livestock and fossil fuels, with the remainder coming largely from waste decomposition as well as rice cultivation, Climate and Clean Air Coalition the data shows.

But the transmitters haven’t kept good records, and scientists trying to improve them over the past decade have had a shock.

“Everywhere we looked, methane emissions turned out to be higher than what the agencies said they should be,” said co-author Robert Jackson. a February study on methanethe impacts of global warming. “That was the case with oil and gas fields, landfills and feedlots.”

While scientists can accurately measure the level of methane in the atmosphere, understanding where it comes from is crucial for policymakers looking to impose regulations that reduce emissions.

Worse than coal?

Oil companies and nations are pushing for natural gas to be a “bridge fuel” to renewables as the world embarks on a clean energy transition to combat climate change. Their argument: the combustion of natural gas emits half as much carbon per kilowatt as coal.

But factor in gas industry leaks from rigs, pipelines, compressors and other infrastructure, and those gains can quickly be wiped out.

“There is a break-even point in the amount of methane leaking that … natural gas (is) actually worse than coal for the climate,” said Sam Abernethy, co-author of the study. February study.

Governments around the world, including the United States, are mandating the oil and gas industry to find and fix leaks after studies show industry leaks were a huge problem.

The European Union recently approved the labeling of certain natural gas projects as “green” in a major boost to the industry.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks in Johannesburg; editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Photograph: A major sea disturbance can be seen off the Danish island of Bornholm on Tuesday September 27, 2022 following a series of unusual leaks on two gas pipelines from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany . The leaks raised concerns of possible sabotage. Photo credit: Danish Defense Command via AP.

Climate change

Interested in Climate change?

Receive automatic alerts for this topic.

Teresa H. Sadler