Why methane matters

The potent greenhouse gas remains in the atmosphere for just over a decade, but cutting methane emissions is a critical step in slowing short- and long-term global warming.

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Today we’re talking about two climate blindspots: methane and short-term warming. Most of us think of global warming as a long game. How do we reach net zero by 2050? And how should we curb carbon dioxide emissions to get there?

But the warming happening now and in the next few years is just as important.

Short-term warming exacerbates wildfires, hurricanes and other climate impacts now. And the short-term trajectory of warming can make things better or worse in the long run. At some point before we reach net zero emissions, it’s increasingly likely that we will overshoot our 1.5-degree target. Hopefully, we will come back down, but the more we overshoot, the worse the effects of climate change will be. That’s why we should bend the curve of that trajectory by tackling the causes of short-term warming.

High up on that list is methane. Once released, it stays in the atmosphere for only 12 years, but in the 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, it causes about 84 times more warming than carbon dioxide does. That means it also has the potential to be a powerful climate solution. Methane has caused about 30% of global warming to date, but cutting emissions now would actually have a cooling effect. Why? Because unlike carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for several hundred years, methane breaks down relatively quickly. 

So how do we tackle the methane problem?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Erika Reinhardt, co-founder of Spark Climate Solutions, a nonprofit focused on underaddressed climate solutions. Right now Spark is focusing on methane emissions from livestock, also known as enteric methane.

Shayle and Erika cover topics like:

  • Why we should consider different time-scale standards for measuring global warming impacts, such as GWP100 and GWP20.

  • How short-lived aerosols mask the full warming impact of greenhouse gasses.

  • The ins and outs of methane removal, including the process of oxidation and methane sinks.

  • Different sources of methane, such as wetlands, livestock and fossil fuel production.

  • Ready-to-deploy solutions to fossil fuel methane emissions, such as flaring, detection, capture and storage.

  • How flaring may be less effective than previously thought.

  • Solutions under development for livestock methane, such as manure management, biogas digesters and feed additives like seaweed-derived bromoform.

Recommended resources:

  • Canary: Cutting methane emissions could make a big dent in climate change, major U.N. report says

  • Bloomberg: As gas prices soar, nobody knows how much methane is leaking

  • Inside Climate News: Feeding cows seaweed reduces their methane emissions, but California farms are a long way from scaling up the practice

  • Canary: What to do about leaky methane

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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