Reducing methane emissions could save over a quarter of a million lives, according to a new assessment published by the United Nations Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC).
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, human-caused methane emissions are increasing faster than any time since record-keeping began in the 1980s.
This is a particular concern because methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas and is responsible for about 30% of warming since pre-industrial times.
The report notes that human-caused methane emissions come from three main sectors: fossil fuels, waste and agriculture.
In the fossil fuel sector, oil and gas extraction, processing, and distribution account for 23%, and coal mining accounts for 12%. In the waste sector, landfills and wastewater make up about 20% of emissions and in the agricultural sector, livestock emissions from manure represent roughly 32%.
According to the assessment, a 45% reduction in methane emissions can be achieved in this decade alone, achieving this would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045.
Because methane is a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone, such reductions would prevent 260 000 premature deaths, 775 000 asthma-related hospital visits, 73 billion hours of lost labour from extreme heat, and 25 million tonnes of crop losses annually.
Targeted measures in the fossil fuel sector could reduce these emissions simply by fixing methane leaks and reducing venting.
Roughly 60% of these targeted measures are low cost and 50% of those have negative costs, meaning companies make money from taking action.
However, the report has highlighted that targeted measures alone are not enough, a shift to renewable energy and a reduction in food loss and waste can reduce methane emissions by a further 15% by 2030.
Drew Shindell, who chaired the assessment for the CCAC, and is Professor of Climate Science at Duke University, said: ‘To achieve global climate goals, we must reduce methane emissions while also urgently reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
‘The good news is that most of the required actions bring not only climate benefits but also health and financial benefits, and all the technology needed is already available.’
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