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The fuss about methane


Part 1: Science and weird facts

Methane is getting a lot of attention in climate debates. There was even a “Methane Day” last Tuesday at the climate conference in Glasgow. Several new regulations controlling methane emissions have been adopted recently, including two new rules for the US oil and gas sector announced last week. There’s a new informal international agreement to limit methane emissions, and a still-unresolved effort to put a charge on methane emissions into the forthcoming reconciliation bill. And more methane initiatives are surely on the way.

There are several good reasons for this. Methane is essential to control, since stabilizing climate requires reducing all anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions to net-zero. Methane is a pretty big contributor to heating, second only to CO2. Moreover, for reasons I’ll explain below, cutting methane brings especially strong benefits over the next few decades. There are even indications that near-term cuts might be easier to achieve for methane than for CO2, for a mix of technical, economic, and political reasons. None of this means methane controls can replace CO2 controls; but it does make methane an especially attractive candidate for immediate and steep cuts.

This post is an introduction to methane in climate change: where it comes from, how it’s different from CO2, how those differences matter, and what that all means for controls. I won’t go into details on the current state of methane controls and proposals for new ones. That’s for a subsequent post.