BBC Science Focus
Global methane emissions are highest on record
Elevated levels of methane in the atmosphere could lead to an increase in wildfires, droughts and flooding, researchers say
Between 2000 and 2017, levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane barrelled up toward pathways that climate models suggest will lead to between 3°C and 4°C of warming before the end of this century, researchers at Stanford University have found.
Increases are being driven primarily by the growth of emissions from coal mining, oil and natural gas production, cattle and sheep ranching, and landfills, which could lead to an increase in natural disasters, including wildfires droughts and floods.
Methane is a colourless, odourless gas that is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year period. In 2017, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbed nearly
600 million tons of methane, a 9 per cent rise since the early 2000s, with more than half of all emissions coming from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and agriculture. In terms of warming potential, adding this much extra methane to the atmosphere since 2000 is akin to putting 350 million more cars on the world’s roads, the researchers say.
“We still haven’t turned the corner on methane,” said Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “Emissions from cattle and other
“In 2017, the Earth’s atmosphere absorbed nearly 600 million tons of methane”
ruminants are almost as large as those from the fossil fuel industry for methane. People joke about burping cows without realising how big the source really is.”
According to the researchers, curbing methane emissions will require reducing fossil fuel use and controlling errant emissions such as leaks from pipelines and wells, as well as changes to the way we feed cattle, grow rice and eat.
“We’ll need to eat less meat and reduce emissions associated with cattle and rice farming, and replace oil and natural gas in our cars and homes,” Jackson said.