COP26: Could curbing methane emissions be a shortcut to a cooler climate?

FILE - In this March 31, 2017, file photo, dairy cattle feed at a farm near Vado, N.M. On Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming under the proposed infrastructure bill, farmers will be taxed for each cow, including $6,500 a year for dairy cows. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
Livestock is a key emitter of methane.

World leaders have pledged to curb their methane emissions by 30% by 2030 in order to tackle the devastating impact of climate change.

The landmark agreement hailed as a “game-changing commitment” by US President Joe Biden was agreed on the second day of the COP26 climate conference.

Here's why the deal is so important:

What is methane?

Methane is a greenhouse gas, which means it traps the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is the primary component of natural gas, a widely used energy source.

According to the UN, methane is responsible for around 30% of global warming since the pre-industrial era (1850-1900). Concentrations of methane hit record highs in 2020, as they increased at faster rates than in the past 10 years.

How is methane emitted?

Most human-caused methane emissions come from three sectors:

  • Fossil fuels, such as oil and gas processing

  • Landfills and waste

  • Agriculture, chiefly livestock

Landfill has been identified as one of the biggest emitters of methane.

How does methane compare to CO2?

Methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to raising global temperatures.

However, it only takes about a decade to reverse methane's harmful impacts. On the other hand, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries.

What impact will cutting methane emissions have on climate change?

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years," the UN said in a report this summer.

It added that reducing methane in the short term could help to keep global temperature rises to no more than 1.5°C.

However, the UN stressed that successfully curbing methane would not reduce the need for "strong, rapid and sustained reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases".

What is the 1.5°C target and why does it matter?

When the Paris Agreement – the global treaty on climate change – was negotiated in 2015, there was a successful push by nations such as low-lying islands to include the 1.5°C target in the deal because they felt letting temperatures go any higher would threaten their survival. As a result countries pledged to keep global temperature rises to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C over the long-term.