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Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases on Earth. It is a natural part of the greenhouse effect and global warming. Emissions of methane are the second largest contributor to climate change (after CO2). For example, it gets emitted during the production and transport of fossil fuels. In fact, it is the main component of natural gas.

What is methane?

Methane is a colourless and odourless greenhouse gas. It has the chemical formula CH4 and was discovered at the end of the 18th century by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta. The amount of methane in the atmosphere has increased by 150 % since the industrial revolution. In part because of fossil fuel extractions and the agricultural sector. Today, it is responsible for about 20 % of global emissions.

Global warming potential

Greenhouse gases are measured with the “Global warming potential” – GWP. The GWP is a measurement showing the amount of heat absorbed by a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It compares the potential of any gas with CO2, which helps to understand just how potent methane is and why it is essential to address the emissions of the gas. CO2 has a GWP of 1.

Picture of melting ices

Emissions of methane

A big part of the emissions come from leakages when extracting oil and gas. Cattle is another example that releases the gas and another potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas). The emissions of these gases, which have very high GWPs, have increased due to today’s agricultural sector. Particularly livestock farming has been questioned, as large-scale and small-scale farming release these potent greenhouse gases.

For example, methane is about 25 times as strong as CO2. This difference means that releasing one kg of methane contributes 25 times more to global warming than one kg of CO2. Although, it is also essential to know that CO2 stays longer than methane in the atmosphere. Therefore, methane emissions contribute more to the urgent and present amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, not the long-term ones.

More facts

Methane is also a “mining gas” since it gets released from mines. The emissions contribute to a dangerous risk of explosions for workers in the mines, which also harms nature. Furthermore, the gas gets stored in tiny bubbles in the world’s glaciers and ice-covered areas. Methane emissions are increasing as the ice is melting due to global warming. This kind of development contributes to a so-called positive “feedback loop”, which means that the increased gas emissions contribute to a warmer climate, which speeds up the melting of ice-covered areas, releasing even more of the gas.

Reduce methane emissions

There are many ways to reduce the emissions of this gas, for example, by limiting or stopping the extraction of fossil fuels. More sustainable agricultural practices could also make a big difference. By reducing the use of fertilizers and improving the management of organic fertilizers.

Altogether, it is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to slow global warming and work for a more sustainable future.

Example of source: EPA


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