It is elusive to our sight and smell. It is also extremely dangerous for us. It’s about methane, which in the context of catastrophic climate change is many times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Reducing its emissions is necessary to prevent the worst climate scenario from coming true, but this would mean the need for huge changes, for example in agriculture.
It is colorless and odorless, but much more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide. Scientists have no doubt – methane is one of the main causes of global warming. “Tackling methane is one of the most, if not the most important, things that can be done to limit short-term warming,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.
According to the most current UN data, on a global scale, emissions of this gas are responsible for about 20 percent of global warming. The problem is not visible to the naked eye. It is only visible thanks to special cameras. – We can’t see it because methane is, of course, colorless. It can be detected using infrared spectroscopy, explains Nicola Armaroli from the Institute of Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity, Italian National Research Council.
Methane escapes largely from oil and gas installations, pipelines, gas storage tanks and LNG terminals. Satellite images taken with a spectroscope show an oil field in the US state of New Mexico, gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan and a waste processing complex in Iran – some methane plumes stretch for more than 32 kilometers.
– These are super emitters located based on NASA photos. There is no discussion about this, emphasizes Georges Tijbosch, president of the MIQ Institute for Research on Methane Levels.
According to the European Space Agency, the concentration of this greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is currently increasing at a rate of about 1 percent per year, although it has slowed down somewhat in recent months. This may be related to price inflation on the energy raw materials market.
– What do our numbers show from this year’s global methane levels survey? They show that there has been some improvement, these emissions have fallen, but it is happening too slowly. In any case, we have observed that this is related to very high natural gas prices, Birol informs.
High methane emissions and industrial animal breeding
High methane emissions are also associated with industrial animal farming – it is responsible for 35-40 percent of global methane emissions. Firstly, methane is emitted by decomposing animal excrements, and secondly, it is one of the main by-products of cow digestion. 95 percent of cows’ methane emissions come from burping, and over the course of a year, one cow can emit about one hundred kilograms of this gas.
– The growing world population, growing urbanization and the demand for a Western-style meat diet in many parts of the world mean that the demand for products such as milk and beef is also growing, and if this is combined with the issue of methane emissions, it is a real challenge – says Prof. Richard Dewhurst from the Department of Cattle Nutrition and the Scottish Rural College.
The role of methane in global warming was noticed very late. Only two years ago, over 100 countries signed a commitment to reduce its emissions by 1/3 by 2030 compared to 2020 levels. Poland did not support this initiative. But political decisions need to be made collectively and urgently, climate scientists say, because the world is closer to crossing tipping points than previously thought. We are getting closer to, among other things, the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, the rapid thawing of permafrost, and the extinction of coral reefs.
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Main photo source: ‘Clean Air Task Force’