Worried about CO2 warming up Earth? This invisible gas traps 80 times more heat
The world often talks about stopping emission of carbon dioxide to slow down climate change effects, but now an invisible and odourless gas is threatening to heat up the planet faster. The powerful pollutant traps 80 times more heat than CO2.
That gas is methane, the super-potent greenhouse gas that's the main component of
liquefied natural gas (LNG). The latest assessment published this week by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calls for reducing methane emissions in the next 10 years if the world is to meet its climate goals.
On a global scale, methane emissions are responsible for around 30 per cent of warming since the pre-industrial era, according to the United Nations.
Sources of methane
According to United States' environmental protection agency (EPA), methane (CH4) is a hydrocarbon that is a primary component of natural gas.
It is emitted from a variety of human as well as natural sources. Some of these sources are landfills, oil and natural gas systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment and certain industrial processes.
Difference between CO2 and methane
A lot has been discussed about the effects the CO2 has on Earth's climate. However, there is a difference between the two gases.
A single CO2 molecule causes less warming than a methane molecule, but lingers for hundreds of years in the atmosphere whereas methane disappears within two decades. So, achieving significant reductions in methane levels would have a rapid effect on atmospheric warming potential.
Which countries are the biggest methane emitters?
The United States and the European Union (EU) account for more than a third of global consumption of natural gas. Other major economies without strict regulations on oil and gas production or agriculture, such as Brazil and Russia, are also likely to be high methane emitters, according to IPCC report.
Then there are China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico and India.
The International Energy Agency recently put forward a timeline for keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The use of natural gas would have to fall by more than half its current level, meaning no new gas fields or export terminals should be built from now on.
The IPCC report said that consuming fossil fuels has combined with agriculture to push methane and nitrous oxide to records for at least the last 800,000 years. All these greenhouse gases have elevated the global average temperature by about 1.1 degrees Celsius above the late 19th century average.
The combined contribution to global warming of natural factors, such as the sun and volcanoes, is now estimated to be close to zero, the report said.