The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report that found that climate change is occurring rapidly and is being driven by human activities.
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land.
Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred,” a report summary states. Warming is being driven by observed increases in greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels. “Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.”
The IPCC’s Assessment Reports are detailed and comprehensive publications discussing “the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change” as well as analyzing the “impacts and future risks” of climate change. In this sixth Assessment Report, researchers with the IPCC used updated data derived from technologically improved processes for harvesting climate-related data.
The IPCC is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations, created with the express purpose “to provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies”. Since its inception in 1988, the IPCC has grown to include 195 member-states and has provided the world with several comprehensive research reports related to all aspects of climate change.
A key finding of all of the Assessment Reports is the crucial role that greenhouse gases play in global climate change. Their sixth report is no different, though it does extrapolate on methane’s contributions given new data about the gas.
According to the report, methane’s power as a greenhouse gas has been underestimated. Though not quite at the levels of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to climate change, it is now understood that methane’s heat-trapping potential is 30 percent higher than previous estimates. However, unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, methane’s lifespan in the atmosphere is much shorter, lasting only decades. This new understanding provides a unique opportunity for methane emissions reductions that carbon dioxide does not share.
Methane is emitted into the atmosphere in many different ways, both naturally and from human activities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 27 percent of methane is emissions in 2019 were from enteric fermentation - put much more simply: through the digestive systems of humans and other animals. Though it is also emitted naturally, the bulk of emissions comes from natural gas and petroleum development, landfills, manure management, and coal mining. Collectively, these man-made systems accounted for 63 percent of methane emissions in 2019.
As the U.S. works to reduce climate change and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international treaty on limiting global warming, the reduction of CO2 and methane will take center stage in federal and state discussions on energy sources, electricity generation, combustion engines, and other activities that contribute to emissions.