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[Calabasas, CA – May 6] The non-profit Methane Action and leading climate scientists and atmospheric chemists welcomed the landmark UN report on methane emissions released today. But in addition to the report’s focus on cutting anthropogenic methane emissions, they pointed out that we also must prioritize addressing the unprecedented rise in all sources of methane emissions and lowering atmospheric methane concentrations to avoid catastrophic warming.
The new Global Methane Assessment co-authored by the Climate & Clean Air Coalition and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) corrects the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) earlier omission of the recent rapid rise in methane emissions in its calculations of climate trajectories. The new report finds that without drastic cuts to methane emissions, we would be on track for 3 degrees Celsius of warming – double the 1.5 degrees considered to be the safe upper limit for avoiding the worst effects of climate change. The report calls for a concerted effort to cut methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry, landfills and agriculture, which it says could reduce anthropogenic methane emissions by up to 45% in this decade. That would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045.
Methane is a powerful driver of climate change, especially in the near term. It is at least 84 times more powerful than CO2 over 20 years. Methane levels in the atmosphere are 2.5 times above preindustrial levels, and rising fast. Last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released new data showing methane emissions increased by 14.7 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020, the largest jump since systematic measurement began in 1983.
“We applaud the report’s authors for calling for sharp decreases in anthropogenic methane emissions by the end of this decade – that must happen,” said Daphne Wysham, CEO of Methane Action. “But we must enhance our ambition in order to avoid catastrophic warming. Methane Action’s goal is to cut atmospheric methane levels in half, bringing them back to preindustrial levels by 2028. That could potentially return the radiative forcing driving global warming to 2005 levels, saving countless lives and ecosystems while helping us begin to restore the climate.”
Halving atmospheric methane in the next seven years is feasible, but will require not only aggressively mitigating methane emissions as the UN report proposes, but also developing the methane equivalent of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies to neutralize methane already in the atmosphere, Wysham said. “The promise of these technologies, once realized, would be game-changing for the planet,” she said.
Last month Methane Action issued a sign-on letter calling for research and development of such technologies, signed by over 30 atmospheric chemists, climate scientists, and scientists in related fields from the U.S., U.K., Europe and Japan, including Michael Mann, Sir David King, and other noted experts. “To deal with methane emissions that can’t otherwise be mitigated, to reduce the overall methane burden, and to get atmospheric methane levels to a range consistent with meeting climate goals,” the letter argues, “we must combine prevention and mitigation of new methane emissions with actively lowering the concentration of methane already in the atmosphere. “
Today, three scientists working on the cutting edge of enhanced atmospheric methane oxidation reacted to today’s UN report:
Matthew S. Johnson, Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at the Atmospheric Research Center at the University of Copenhagen, said, “The window of opportunity for saving the Arctic, the Amazon and the planet we know is closing. With business as usual we will burn right through the Paris Agreement. That’s why Methane Action is acting to restore pre-industrial atmospheric levels of methane using new technologies.”
Rob Jackson, Professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, said, “We need double-barreled climate action that reduces emissions of carbon dioxide and methane together—and technologies to remove both gases from the atmosphere.”
Franz Oeste, chemical engineer, founder of gM-Ingenieurbüro in Kirchhain, Germany, and inventor of an enhanced atmospheric methane oxidation method that mimics natural processes, said, “Nature has presented us with several ways of reducing methane emissions (e.g. sulfate, iron and methane-consuming microbes) as well as several ways to destroy methane after it’s emitted into the atmosphere (e.g. by short-wave UV dissociation, hydroxyl radical oxidation, and chlorine radical oxidation). We call for more research and development of technologies to enhance these natural processes, in order to identify the safest and most efficient ones.”
Atmospheric CH4 Levels Graph
This graph features atmospheric temperature and methane levels, a powerful greenhouse gas, that combine measurements from Antarctica ice core data as far back as 800,000 years up to the most recent measurements averaged from a global network of air sampling sites.
Graphic: Global Carbon Budget