Curbing methane provides hope for climate


While climate scientists and politicians have so far focused primarily on carbon dioxide emissions, the looming threat of not reducing climate warming in the needed speed with the growing risk of irreversible changes that threaten our livable future on planet Earth, have not only ignited and brought various innovations and new environmental efforts on the way, but also a closer look at greenhouse gases in comparison. With methane being the second largest greenhouse gas, accounting for 16% of global emissions, and 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere in a 20-year period, as well as having a way shorter lifespan with just 12 years versus carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for thousand plus years, this new focus makes sense and gives new hope.

Key figures to methane

According the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) in a report from 2023, atmospheric methane has more than doubled in the last two centuries largely due to human activities. The top three methane emitter countries last year were China (28 metric tons), Russia (18 Mt) and the United States (17 Mt), as the Global Methane Tracker 2023 states.

About one third of the global methane emissions occur naturally from wetlands (194 Mt). The other two-thirds are human-caused through agriculture (142 Mt), energy (128 Mt), waste (71 Mt), natural other sources (39 Mt) and biomass burning (10 Mt) per year, according to the Global Methane Tracker 2024. In the agriculture sector, methane emissions come foremost through the enteric fermentation (burps and farts) from the digestion of ruminant livestock, especially cows and sheep, as well as manure.

Countries around the world are increasingly recognizing the importance of addressing methane as part of their climate action plans. The 2004 launched Global Methane Initiative, a voluntary partnership among governments, industry and other stakeholders, works together to reduce methane emissions through collaboration on technology development, information sharing and capacity building. The 2021 launched Methane Action Plan at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is another international initiative to scale up actions to reduce methane globally.

Advantages of curbing methane

Curbing methane in general is not only crucial in reducing climate warming and so slowing down further climate changes and mega climate disasters, it is also a pathway to a more sustainable and resilient future. It can and must go a step further, though.

As it made sense to look closer at greenhouse gases, it makes sense to have a closer look at animal agriculture as well. While concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and smaller animal farms contribute to climate warming and all connected with it, they are also unsustainable in regards to water, land, feed and energy use, let alone the ethical consideration for the highly constraint farmed animals packed into overcrowded cages and CAFO units, as well as starving people in impoverished countries that could be fed by transitioning to a plant-based farming. In addition, there is the health aspect with consideration in various directions, not just in response to the red-alert of global obesity by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2024 with one billion people of the almost nine billion world population being obese.

Putting the focus on methane gives hope in multiple ways:

1. Effectively reducing climate warming by reducing the most potent and shortest-lived greenhouse gas.

2. Improving air quality as methane is a harmful precursor pollutant to ground-level ozone.

3. Earning revenue by selling captured methane as a renewable energy source.

4. Putting animal agriculture in the focus with all its dire effects on the farmed animals, the climate, ecosystems, fresh water usage, land-water-air pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and connected health risks for people in general and those working in the (animal) agriculture sector.

5. Emphasizing a greater responsibility and opportunity as consumer to become problem-solvers just by switching to (more) plant-based meals.

While governments and the industry have to intensify their efforts, we as individuals, families, businesses, organizations and cities have to come on board (stronger) too and seize the opportunity as well as shoulder the responsibility. Let’s hurry on with it for the better of all!

Rita Selle-Grider is founder of Vegans Delaware OH and the Plant Based Treaty organizer for Delaware.

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