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Atmospheric methane hits record high for second straight year, NOAA reports

Methane — the second-largest human-made contributor to the climate crisis after carbon dioxide — has risen in the atmosphere by the greatest amount in 2021 since measurements began nearly 40 years ago, the National said. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The invisible, odorless gas escapes into the atmosphere primarily from oil and gas operations, and often goes unnoticed. Methane has about 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide in the short term. As the planet rapidly approaches 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, scientists have warned that atmospheric methane must be reduced quickly.

Methane increased by 17 parts per billion in 2021, NOAA reported. The rise in 2020 – just above 15 parts per billion – was the previous annual high.

The latest figures come just days after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report outlining how the world should tackle the climate crisis. The panel reported that as the world heads towards levels of global warming that will have irreversible impacts, there are already economically viable solutions, including reducing methane emissions – the fastest way to reduce heat.

The concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher today than at any time for at least 800,000 years, according to the IPCC.

Methane, the main component of the natural gas we use to heat our homes and cook, can leak from oil and gas drilling and pipelines that transport these fossil fuels. It also comes from landfills and agricultural practices – and even flatulent cows.

Stanford University scientists reported in March that oil and gas operations in southeastern New Mexico were leaking an alarming 194 metric tons of methane per hour into the atmosphere. That’s more than six times what the Environmental Protection Agency estimated.

Climate experts see methane as a quick win. If the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) tomorrow, global temperatures would not begin to cool for many years due to the length of time the gas remains in the atmosphere. Methane, on the other hand, has a large warming impact for about nine years, said Xin Lan, a researcher working at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory.

“This means that if we reduce methane emissions now, we should be able to see atmospheric levels drop quite rapidly in a few years,” she said. “It’s slightly different from CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, so it takes a lot more effort to make the reduction.”

“And because CO2 is so long-lived, once it’s released into the atmosphere, the impact is quiet and long-lasting,” Lan added.

NOAA also reported on Thursday that carbon dioxide is now at an average of 415 parts per million and continues to rise. For context, when President Barack Obama was elected, atmospheric carbon dioxide was at just over 385 parts per million. It was the 10th consecutive year that CO2 had increased by more than 2 parts per million, NOAA reported.

Robert Jackson, a professor of environmental science at Stanford University, told CNN that while reducing methane emissions is important, world leaders cannot ignore carbon dioxide.

“We have to address both,” Jackson told CNN. “The action of methane alone will not be enough, but it is essential to delay warming in the short term. Carbon dioxide remains the most important greenhouse gas in the long term.”

Jackson noted that because natural gas powers so much of our daily lives, cities and states would do well to prioritize the electrification of new construction to avoid locking in natural gas use for decades. what’s more. He also said there should be a cost to polluting the methane.

“We have even fewer mechanisms to price methane pollution than carbon dioxide in the United States,” Jackson said. “We need to expand carbon removal incentives to include methane removal.”

Rick Duke, the U.S. deputy special envoy for climate, said the Biden administration wants to see more policies to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas — and tackling methane is a major priority.

President Joe Biden took aim at methane emissions in November when he announced a new rule that would push oil and gas companies to more accurately detect, monitor and repair methane leaks from wells, pipelines and other new and improved equipment. existing.
Biden, alongside EU President Ursula von der Leyen, also launched the Global Methane Pledge last year, which aims to reduce global methane emissions by almost 30% by the end of the decade. . More than 100 countries have signed this pledge.

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