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Why was methane a focus at COP26 and how can we help reduce its impact?

If you’ve seen any piece of environmental news in the last 5 years, you’ll have heard about carbon emissions and carbon footprints. It seems that the world won’t stop banging on about carbon. Rightly so. But why then, at COP26, did world leaders pledge to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% from current levels instead of carbon? It may seem that all of a sudden, they’re focusing on the wrong greenhouse gas. But in this blog, we’ll explain why methane is the target and how that affects you.



How does methane harm the environment? 

There are a few different greenhouse gases. While we hear a lot about carbon dioxide, methane is initially 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But what is meant by ‘initially’? When a greenhouse gas is first released into the atmosphere it is at its most damaging. As time goes on, the harmfulness of the gas fades as it is slowly removed from the atmosphere. 

For methane, the initial release is incredibly harmful, whereas carbon dioxide – although harmful – sustains its potency over a longer duration. This means that reducing carbon dioxide is a long-term solution and one we should still persevere with. But the current state of our climate needs a ‘quick win’ type solution. As methane is so harmful, it’s a good gas to target to help minimise the immediate damage to our environment. 

The more potent a greenhouse gas is, the more it increases the speed of global warming effects, the longer it hangs about in the air, the more it’ll affect the eventual temperature of the planet. Methane accounts for 17% of the world’s annual footprint. With CO2 coming in at 67%, it’s the second-highest greenhouse gas being produced. But if you’re focusing on the next 50 years of climate change instead of 100, then you’d double its impact. If you’re looking at the year 2050, like most of the net-zero targets are, then methane’s impact is over two and a half times more lethal than CO2. 

What agreement has been made at COP26? 

During COP26, 105 nations pledged to reduce their methane emissions by 30% before 2030 compared with 2020 levels. It sounds like a lot, but reducing methane is far easier on national scales than carbon dioxide. Making it a tough and pressured target, but completely doable in the next 8 years. 

Across the globe, a third of methane emissions come from coal. A quarter from cows and sheep (enteric emissions which means burps and farts – eww!). A sixth is from waste disposal and a tenth from rice cultivation (the anaerobic digestion in flooded paddy fields). Manure makes up roughly 3%. When you see the numbers like this it’s clear to see where we can immediately make large gains in the UK. 

How to reduce the demand and impact of methane in our lifestyles 

Cows and sheep

We have a lot of cows and sheep in our illustrious green fields. But where do we draw the line? If we’re being blunt about it, each animal needs to serve a purpose, whether that’s milk, wool or for consumption. If they don’t serve a purpose, they’re adding a lot of methane to the atmosphere.  

On the other hand, a lot of these animals are bred for these purposes, therefore it is our demand for these products that needs to lessen as opposed to ‘using them all up’. Whether you have more vegetarian dinners a week, switch to oat milk for your coffee, or purchase fewer wool items for the winter. Our demand for these products can lead to overbred cow and sheep populations that – through no fault of their own – lead to harmful levels of methane. 

Coal

The other large area of methane production is coal. What makes this worse, is that the UK is currently looking to open another coal mine. Knowing the UK needs to reduce their methane levels by 2030, opening a coal mine is a little counterintuitive – don’t you think? 

That being said, as a nation, we’re currently struggling to provide enough renewable energy to supply to the nation – hence why purchasing energy from abroad has led to such huge spikes in prices recently. We need to find a balance that works and doesn’t rely on other, perhaps less eco-minded nations.  

As the individual, how do we reduce our demand? We’ve already looked at reducing our energy use at home and ensuring our energy supplier is using renewable energy and is as eco as possible. Where else can we reduce our demand for coal? 

Although the majority of coal is used for electrical energy, it is also used to help produce plastic, alongside other products like medicines, road surfaces, chemicals and fertilisers. Plastics is the most accessible to the individual. So, if you want to make a difference in the demand for coal, reduce your plastic consumption.



Sadly, some of the countries that create the most greenhouse gas emissions did not enter this methane pledge, including China, India, and Russia (3 of the top 4). While China contributes 24% of all global emissions, and the UK just 0.97% it may seem like removing plastic from your lifestyle is just a drop in a huge ocean. But remember, every drop makes a ripple, that leads to a wave and eventually a complete shift in the way the ocean moves. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that there are enough drops in the ocean like our Greenredeem members to help meet these targets.

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