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Reducing methane emissions: the other climate change challenge

Publication date:
B. Dessus
Type of publication:

Within the topical issue of climate change, this paper zeroes in on the problem of high methane emissions. It reviews the current situation with regards to methane emissions, and then continues to discuss the economic aspects, such as the Carbon Market, before concluding with some key action points. It is argued that climate change policy targets are set in terms of greenhouse gas emission reductions. In order to simplify the overall assessment of the impact of emissions of these different greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide CO2, methane CH4, nitrous oxide N2O, etc.) on global warming, the international community has adopted rules of equivalence to make it possible to take into account the emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases with one single unit: the tonne of CO2 equivalent (t CO2 eq).
The study presented in this document shows that the widespread use of this equivalence to calculate both past emissions, anticipated future emissions and emissions avoided has led to the climate impact of methane emissions being underestimated. This is because the Global Warming Potential of methane varies considerably depending on the period under consideration (from around 100 for the first few years to 21 - or 25 according to the most recent assessment - for a 100-year period). The paper concludes with a number of action points:

the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent studies show that climate change is an issue in the much sooner future than decision makers generally imagine. It is vital, and urgent that CH4 is attended to
there is considerable potential to reduce methane emissions in the short and medium term (by approximately 30% by 2030) in both industrial and emerging countries equally. Current world methane emissions are approximately 360 Mtonnes and fairly evenly distributed globally
the definition of short- and medium-term programmes of action in both industrial and developing countries runs up, first, against the imprecision or even lack of sector-based data on current methane emissions. It is therefore urgent that a reliable database of emissions be established country by country and sector by sector based on the physical quantities of methane emitted and not, as is seen too often (when the data exist) based on a CO2 equivalence at 100 years, the limiting nature of which we have seen.