Energy Exchange

New IPCC report zeroes in on urgency of reducing methane

The new report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the direst warning yet that we must rapidly and drastically slash climate emissions around the world and that reducing methane emissions is mission critical.

Though the report includes some important opportunities, it’s a very sober read. Let’s get some of the central but troubling conclusions out of the way.

We’ll likely pass 1.5C earlier than expected

Conducted by more than 200 of the world’s most influential climate scientists, the new assessment concludes we’re on course to surpass 1.5 C of warming by 2040, roughly a decade earlier than predicted in IPCC’s 2018 landmark report. A warming of 1.5 C will likely result in stronger and more frequent heat waves, heavier rainfall and flooding, more severe droughts and more powerful storms.

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A U.S. economy-wide methane target: essential, achievable, affordable

The Biden administration is preparing to announce a new U.S. greenhouse gas emissions target for 2030 under the Paris Agreement — a pledge known as a Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC — in advance of this year’s United Nations climate talks. Given the last four years of U.S. climate inaction and denial, it is important that the U.S. put forward an ambitious yet credible target and restore its position as a global leader on climate.

Although many countries pledge a single headline target that includes all greenhouse gas emissions, we believe that a complementary methane target is an essential addition that will considerably benefit the climate. Although it would include methane, a combined target is not sufficient to ensure that immediate and strong actions are taken to reduce methane emissions at the extent warranted.

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Long considered a “clean” energy source, hydropower can actually be bad for climate

A new EDF study published this week in Environmental Science and Technology shows that hydropower — the leading renewable energy technology projected to grow rapidly — is not always as good for the climate as broadly assumed. Moreover, continuing to assume that it is could mean that projects meant to reduce greenhouse emissions will unintentionally increase them instead.

Motivated by pervasive misconceptions of the climate impacts of hydropower, we assessed the warming impacts over time of sustained greenhouse gas emissions estimated from nearly 1,500 existing hydropower plants around the globe. We also looked at the implications of future hydropower development.

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UN Special Report confirms urgent need to reduce methane emissions

The latest UN IPCC report makes it crystal clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only pollutant that matters for limiting future warming.

Deep reductions in emissions of non-CO2 pollutants, particularly methane (CH4), are essential to staying below temperature targets, and have the added benefits of improving public health, food security, and ecosystems.

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Industry-backed white paper low-balls oil & gas methane impact

A white paper by the Gas Technology Institute’s Center for Methane Research is drawing attention in industry circles for arguing that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector have a much smaller impact on the global climate than virtually every other generally accepted scientific estimate.

That would be huge news if it were true. But unfortunately, the conclusion is rendered completely moot by a compounding series of fundamental errors. In fact, had the authors done their math accurately, their results would have been very much in line with mainstream research which shows that human-caused methane emissions are responsible for a quarter of the worldwide warming we’re experiencing today.

We can’t say whether the erroneous calculations were intentional or not. It’s worth noting, however, that EDF pointed out these mistakes to GTI staff when our scientists were asked to comment on a pre-publication draft. We will explain them again here, showing where the authors went wrong and what the numbers look like when they correctly reflect the underlying physics and chemistry.

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New science suggests methane packs more warming power than previously thought

Methane (CH4) Molecule

It’s long been known that methane is a major contributor to global warming, responsible for roughly a quarter of the warming we’re experiencing today and second only to carbon dioxide in its impact on the current climate.

But research suggests methane has an even more potent warming effect on the climate than scientists previously thought.

For example, a study in Geophysical Research Letters significantly revises estimates of the energy trapped by methane by including its previously-neglected absorption of near-infrared radiation (past research included only infrared absorption—a different part of the radiation spectrum).

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