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Why reducing methane is better than CO2 to fight against climate change

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By Takeshi Takama

· 4 min read

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the most well-known greenhouse gases. It is not surprising that CO2 has come to be widely recognized as the cause of global warming and climate change, given that it accounts for 65% of worldwide gas emissions. We cannot refute the fact that human actions, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and land use, cause the emission of carbon dioxide. Does this imply that the optimal course of action is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

We should not only concentrate on carbon dioxide as we tackle climate change. Reducing carbon emissions is essential, however, other greenhouse gases also have an effect on our climate as well. Methane is the second-most significant greenhouse gas (CH4) emission. Since the pre-industrial revolution, methane gas has been accountable for about 30% of the planet's warming. This methane leakage is a result of routine human activity and is caused by the following sources: 23% by oil and gas extraction, 12% by coal mining, 20% by sewage, 32% by agricultural, including cattle, and 8% by paddy fields. Methane gas has a smaller greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide, despite the fact that burning it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Depending on how you calculate it, methane gas combustion creates carbon dioxide, which is more potent than carbon dioxide.

Methane gas is not as much of a long-term contributor to climate change as carbon dioxide, but its greenhouse effect is said to be about 25 times than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, cutting methane emissions by 45% by 2030 will allow us to minimize global warming by around 0.3 degrees Celsius by the year 2040.

Additionally, methane is the most easily controlled of the three main greenhouse gases. Since human economic activity is closely correlated with carbon dioxide emissions, the argument over development vs climate change always promotes the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. In general, cutting carbon dioxide emissions costs money, whereas methane has the economic advantage of keeping this gas out of the atmosphere. As you see in the previous paragraph, there are numerous important activities where methane can be reduced, and doing so will have economic advantages. Another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, is produced by chemical fertilizers. Nitrous oxide emission is also always considered a trade-off for effective farming when weighing it against the food crisis. Therefore, lowering methane emissions might be simpler.

Methane gas is less likely to result in trade-offs with development problems than the other two gases. Methane mitigation can be a cost-effective option to support the global target of limiting warming to 1.5°C while simultaneously providing benefits to some vulnerable communities. Keeping methane gas out of the air is a means to provide energy security and, consequently, rising growth. These multiple targets can be achieved by promoting renewable energy from, for example, biogas.

Methane gas is the primary component of biogas produced by animals. Instead of releasing methane into the air, we can even get more benefits by capturing methane produced by our daily activities into the biogas. Furthermore, methane gas extraction from agricultural activities such as biogas gives additional social advantages, such as bringing clean electricity to remote communities that lack it. It is economically advantageous to use methane gas without releasing it into the atmosphere because doing so reduces the need to buy fossil fuels and other energy sources.

In developing countries, the value of biogas in assisting vulnerable communities that lack access to clean energy is beginning to be noticed. Farmers in Indonesia, where over 30% of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihood, have started to reap the advantages of clean energy by turning their livestock and agricultural waste into fuel for cooking. Even though the biogas they use is regarded as small-scale, farmers still realize its economic advantages, particularly in the reduction of daily spending for LPG, firewood, and fertilizer. In addition to producing gas, the co-benefit of biogas in the form of bio-slurry for organic fertilizer also benefits the agricultural system by encouraging a return to organic farming and enhancing soil health. Using organic fertilizer produced by the biogas also indirectly reducing NO2 emission since the use of chemical fertilizer will also be lessen. Therefore, developing biogas serves numerous Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in addition to the Paris Agreement's goal of keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr Takeshi Takama is the CEO of Sustainability and Resilience as well as an Associate at the Stockholm Environment Institute

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