File picture: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP
File picture: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP

WATCH: Joe Biden urges world nations to cut methane output

By Dominic Naidoo Time of article published Sep 22, 2021

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A global pledge to reduce methane emissions has been launched by the United States and the European Union. US President Joe Biden announced last Friday that the world needs to cut its methane emissions by almost 30% by 2030 if we are to succeed in keeping climate change in check.

Daniel Varon, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University says “if you’re trying to impact climate policy in the next 10 years, methane is a really good chemical to go after”.

Biden made the announcement during the Major Economies Forum, a virtual, closed-door meeting with other world leaders on climate, ahead of a pivotal UN climate conference in Glasgow in November.

The meeting is meant to raise climate ambition ahead of the Glasgow summit.

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"This will not only rapidly reduce the rate of global warming, but it will also produce a very valuable side benefit like improving public health and agricultural output," Biden said. "We're mobilising support to help developing countries that join and pledge to do something significant."

The president implored world leaders to "bring to Glasgow our highest possible ambitions," citing his county’s own climate goals aimed at curbing carbon emissions.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “the concentration of methane in the atmosphere is higher now than any time in at least 800 000 years.”

Earth is rapidly approaching the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold above pre-industrial levels and this is due, in part, to methane’s efficiency at retaining heat, according to Charles Koven, a lead author of the IPCC report.

Methane - a colourless, odourless, and highly flammable gas, and the main component in natural gas, is used to generate electricity and heat homes around the world.

Methane accounted for roughly 10 percent of all human-driven greenhouse gas emissions in the US in 2017, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It is a highly potent greenhouse gas and a toxic surface air pollutant. Reducing methane emissions will improve the quality of the air we breathe whilst also mitigating climate change with the results being almost immediately noticeable.

Studies cited by the United States EPA have shown that “over a 20-year period, a kilogram of methane warms the planet as much as 80 times more than a kilogram of carbon dioxide.”

Methane is mainly produced in two ways, when organic matter decomposes or by extracting fossil fuel deposits found underground or under the seabed.

A series of chemical reactions occur when organic matter decomposes at shallow depths in low-oxygen environments, such as swamps. As plants die and sink to the bottom of these watery environments, bacteria begin to break them down.

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that wetlands are the single largest natural contributor to methane emissions. Additionally, methane can leak from mud volcanoes, rice fields, and strangely, termites.

Methane is also found in underground fossil fuel deposits that have been subjected to high pressure and temperatures over millions and millions of years.

When these fuels are harvested, mined, and released, so is methane - which easily leaks during the extraction of oil, coal, and natural gas.

File picture: Julian Warnand/EPA

A large chunk, about 27%, is generated through a process called enteric fermentation, the burps and flatulence of cows while they digest their food. Around 16% of global methane emissions are generated by organic waste decomposing in landfills, 9% through the storage and use of manure and 8% as a by-product of coal mining.

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