Blog: Methane Brought to Book


By Gail Riekie. 13th October 2010.

In the book ‘Methane and Climate Change’ edited by Dave Reay, Pete Smith and André van Amstel, and published in May 2010, research from many disciplines is brought together to provide an overview of the different methane sources and the potential for controlling emissions.

I asked MethaneNet colleague Dave Reay about the thinking behind the book. “We decided to put this book together using the tried and tested question of ‘is this a book I’d like to have?’. There was nothing available that I could find that brought all the current knowledge on methane and climate change, especially methane mitigation, together in one place. So we had a go at producing it”.

“The key issues were to include some discussion in all the chapters of how climate change may itself lead to changes in methane fluxes from the various major sources. As ever, we also had to make sure we conveyed the uncertainties in this and in the estimates of current source strengths e.g wetlands”.

The book aims to provide the graduate student and academic research community with a single source reference point on the subject. It is published by Earthscan and available from the usual online sources.

Reducing Short-term Climate Pollutants – is it worth it?


22nd November 2013.

A recent report from the World Bank and the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) has detailed the effects of climate change on the cryosphere; areas of the planet that are constantly frozen. These effects include thawing permafrost, melting glaciers, and receding ice sheets, which may stimulate positive feedbacks through albedo changes. The joint report goes on to offer solutions to lower concentrations of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as methane and black carbon, with the aim of slowing climate change.

The specific call of the report is to implement fourteen changes by 2030. Seven of these changes target methane and seven target black carbon. A large proportion of the methane strategies are based on capturing emissions from several different sectors, including coal mining, energy production, landfill, wastewater, and livestock. Additionally, there are calls to increase composting and recycling, as well as the suggestion to keep rice paddies continuously flooded so as to restrict emissions. The black carbon strategies include the widespread use of particle filters on diesel engines, and the reduction in both accidental and deliberate (for agricultural and forestry purposes) fires. Black carbon reduction measures also involve the use of biogas and LPG rather than biofuel with cooking stoves, and the incorporation of fans to enhance combustion. With regards to heating stoves, there is the suggestion for a switch from chunk coal to coal briquettes.

The authors hope that, if implemented, these measures will result in numerous benefits to human health, as well as to the climate. For example, the annual death toll due to smoke exposure from cooking stoves is four million, whilst a 50% decrease in the burning of open fields and forest could improve air quality and lead to 190,000 fewer deaths per year.

The report does stress that these fourteen suggested changes are essentially only interim measures to prevent climate change, and that any benefits from them will be nullified without associated reductions in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions. As Rachel Kyte of the World Bank writes in the report’s foreward: “the science is settled and the problem identified. Now we must act in the smartest and most effective way we can. Our world is on thin ice.”

However, the World Bank and ICCI report is undermined by a new paper published in Nature Climate Change.   In it, the authors show that reductions in SLCPs are essentially futile unless accompanied by decreased emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The authors state that “these arguments serve to reinforce the point — widely accepted in the scientific community but often overlooked in policy discourse — that relative to delayed SLCP reductions, early SLCP reductions cannot be used to buy time to delay reductions in LLCPs (long-lived climate pollutants) such as carbon dioxide.”

The issue of reducing SLCPs thus appears to be complex. Reducing SLCPs does have the potential to bring other benefits to human health, agriculture and ecosystems, as discussed in the World Bank/ICCI report. Additionally, some people hope that lowering SLCPs will be a prudent political move because it might stimulate action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.   Countering this, there is the possibility that resources targeting SLCPs might be better devoted to reducing LLCPs.

What do you think?

The report can be downloaded here:

Bowerman, N.H.A., Frame, D.J., Huntingford, C., Lowe, J.A., Smith, S.M., Allen, M.R. 2013. The role of short-lived climate pollutants in meeting temperature goals. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate2034

Image: Mount Everest North Face as seen from the path to the base camp, Tibet. By Luca Galuzzi.

Climate Change: Thinking Outside the Low Carbon Box

23rd June 2012. In this TEDx Exeter talk, Peter Cox picks up on material he covered at the recent MethaneNet supported session at Planet Under Pressure in London and also on the principal theme of the December 2011 Methane Hack meeting at the Geological Society of London.  In his own inimitable style, Peter discusses the quick climate gains that can be achieved through reducing methane emissions which can then buy time while CO2 mitigation strategies are enacted.

Methane Hack Meeting Report


3rd February 2012. The global methane cycle held its breath on 1st December as some of the world’s leading experts on methane emissions and geo-engineering gathered at the Geological Society to discuss strategies for ‘hacking’ into the system and reducing the atmospheric concentration of this potent greenhouse gas.

The ‘Methane Hack’ discussion meeting, sponsored by MethaneNet, was organised by Vincent Gauci and Gail Riekie of the Open University.

Compared to carbon dioxide, the average methane molecule has a relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere and herein lies the opportunity. Speaker after speaker emphasised the point that reducing the amount of methane in the atmosphere represents a ‘quick hit’, a means of stabilising the climate in the near term whilst buying time to figure out how to solve the carbon dioxide problem – in effect, the climate crisis equivalent of applying a tourniquet until the surgeon arrives.

Ideas for mitigating methane emissions came thick and fast. Anthropogenic point sources of methane, e.g. coal mines, gas pipelines and landfill sites, were recognised to be easier to tackle than diffuse natural sources such as boreal and tropical wetlands.  The theoretical basis of direct capture of methane from the atmosphere was presented, as were the practicalities of extracting methane from coal mine ventilation air and, perhaps more far-fetched, deploying sheeting on the Arctic sea-bed to gather up methane from seep areas. Science can suggest ways of minimising the methane emitted by cattle and from rice paddies, but these methods will be adopted only when they also make practical and economic sense to the farmers involved. Keynote speaker David Reay of the University of Edinburgh reviewed the microbial basis of the global methane flux and observed that for methane mitigation policies to be effective, “we need to understand humans as well as we understand methanogens.”

The meeting concluded with pleas for greater transparency in methane emissions projections, for more methane monitoring stations (particularly in the southern hemisphere), and above all for methane’s potentially pivotal role as a short-term climate fix to be more widely recognised by climate scientists and policy makers alike.

The chair of the meeting, Dr Vincent Gauci says “It’s clear from this meeting that there is enormous potential for quick climate gains from mitigating methane emissions – the ingenuity on display in these talks is impressive. The challenge now lies in introducing these strategies effectively and for that to happen, we need help from social scientists, economists and policy makers as well as the scientists and engineers who are coming up with the solutions.”

A Win-Win Situation?

Coal mine Ardyiii

3rd February 2012.

Actions to combat global warming are frequently cast by climate-change deniers as absurdly expensive, impractical, or unlikely to make any tangible difference in a time-scale meaningful to humans. However, a comprehensive new study has identified a range of practical and economically viable measures that are shown both to mitigate near-term climate change and to improve human health and food security (Shindell et al., 2012).

The starting point for this work is that tropospheric ozone and black carbon (BC) are known to degrade air quality and to cause warming, thus actions to reduce amounts of these agents promise multiple benefits. Methane enters the equation as a precursor of ozone and in its own right as a powerful greenhouse gas with a relatively short atmospheric lifespan.

Using the IIASA-GAINS* model, the authors narrowed down ~400 existing pollution control measures to 14 options, all based on current technologies, which have the combined potential to achieve nearly 90% of the maximum modelled net GWP reduction. Of these, seven target methane emissions.  MethaneNet members who attended our ‘Methane Hack’ meeting at the Geological Society last December will already by familiar with these mitigation options, which cover coal mining, oil and gas production and transport, waste and landfills, waste water, livestock manure and rice paddies.

Based on the 14 prioritised measures, the authors modelled future emissions scenarios and, using the ECHAM5-HAMMOZ and GISS-PUCCINI three dimensional composition climate models, calculated their warming impact. The impacts on health and agriculture were calculated separately. Overall, the work demonstrates that the 14 measures could significantly reduce the global mean temperature over the next two decades, although the authors emphasise that only when the methane and BC measures are combined with actions to mitigate CO2 emissions is the target of limiting the global temperature increase to less than 2°C achieved. The methane control measures contribute more than half the warming mitigation with the lowest associated uncertainties.

Finally, a cost and benefits valuation based on the VSL (value of a statistical life), world prices for crops and the SCC (social cost of carbon) was conducted. The figures calculated are highly dependent on the time span considered and the discount rate. However, even a conservative selection of the metrics used indicates that the benefits of implementing these methane and BC abatement measures far outweigh the costs.

The study also considered the impacts of the 14 control measures by region and sector. The greatest benefit arises from controlling methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and transportation. The single most significant measure would be to tackle methane emissions from Chinese coal mines.

Professor David Fowler of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology sums up this major study thus. “The strength of the approach is that there are many benefits and modest costs and if we compare what is possible with these measures against the glacial progress with control measures through UNFCCC, here we have some relatively quick wins.  We still urgently need to control CO2 emissions, but the returns are longer term.”

*International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Greenhouse gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies


Drew Shindell, Johan C. I. Kuylenstierna, Elisabetta Vignati, Rita van Dingenen, Markus Amann, Zbigniew Klimont, Susan C. Anenberg, Nicholas Muller, Greet Janssens-Maenhout, Frank Raes, Joel Schwartz, Greg Faluvegi, Luca Pozzoli, Kaarle Kupiainen, Lena Höglund-Isaksson, Lisa Emberson, David Streets, V. Ramanathan, Kevin Hicks, N. T. Kim Oanh, George Milly, Martin Williams, Volodymyr Demkine, and David Fowler (2012). Simultaneously mitigating near-term climate change and improving human health and food security. Science, 335, 183-189.

New International Methane Accord


5th October 2010.

On 1st October in Mexico City, 38 countries launched a Global Methane Initiative to drive down emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. After the disappointing results from Copenhagen summit, this new accord, led by the USA and Mexico, illustrates an alternative approach to international action to counter potentially dangerous levels of anthropogenic warming.

The United States have pledged £50 million over the next five years to support methane mitigation projects and technologies, and the hope is that other developed countries will follow suit.

Methane is an attractive target for emission reduction. Its potency as a greenhouse gas (25 times greater than CO2 over 100 years) and its relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere, mean that small actions can have a big impact. What’s more, if the methane captured is converted to clean energy, the gain for the environment can be matched by economic benefits.

The Global Methane Initiative is backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mexico’s Ministry of Environment, the European Commission, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and builds on the existing Methane to Markets Partnership. The 38 partner countries will develop action plans to