“There is probably nothing we can do that has a greater impact on peak shaving temperatures over the next few decades than removing methane,” says Rob Jackson, a Stanford researcher and co-author of both studies.
There is relatively little methane: the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 200 times higher. However, today it accounts for about 30% of total global warming, or about 0.5 ˚C, according to a recent study. report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Although it has a lifetime in the atmosphere of only about 10 years, in a short time it is about 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
“Methane will go away, but for now it will cause problems,” says Vaishali Nike, an atmospheric scientist from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Due to its short lifespan, if methane emissions were reduced today, atmospheric levels would quickly drop. In the recent UN Environment Report on Methane co-authored by Nike, researchers estimate that a 45% reduction in methane emissions today could reduce warming by 0.28 ˚C by mid-century, keeping the world below a warming target of less than 1.5 C from pre-industrial levels like this defined by the Paris Agreement.
About two-thirds of those reductions could be achieved with readily available solutions, Nike said. This includes plugging leaking natural gas wells and reducing reliance on coal mines to release underground methane that is formed when plant material is converted to coal. Reducing some of the emissions is likely cheaper and easier than scaling up removal technology, she said.
But to keep the warming below 1.5 ˚C, methane emissions from industries such as agriculture must also be reduced, which can be more difficult as populations grow.