“Strong, rapid” methane reductions needed to limit future warming

9 August 2021 

Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in methane emissions are needed to limit further warming, according to the latest report from the world’s leading climate scientists. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first instalment of its Sixth Assessment Report today, which examined “the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change” through the review of 14,000 scientific publications. 

The report contained a number of key takeaways, including the indisputable influence of human activity in relation to climate change and that climate change is affecting every region of the planet. 

The authors also stressed that strong, rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and methane are crucial if the world is to limit future warming. 

The decline of methane would also “limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality”, according to the IPCC. 

Other revelations in the report included that the global average temperatures are expected to exceed 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels by 2040 if current emissions are sustained and that our natural carbon sinks, already absorbing half of human-generated emissions, will absorb a smaller proportion of future emissions. 

Future warming is entirely dependent on current decisions as “the climate we experience in the future depends on our decisions now”, the report concludes. 

The report also breaks down specific climatic effects of further warming for regions the worldover through an interactive atlas. 

For Ireland and Europe, it is projected that the region will experience increased flooding and more intense heatwaves, which would have serious consequences for agriculture and human health.

“Today’s report makes it clear that failure to act will have devastating consequences, but it also offers hope. Strong and sustained reductions in emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change. 

“We know what we have to do. We now need to harness a national and global effort to do it,” Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said today in response to the report. 

Sources of methane 

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and has an estimated warming effect of 84 to 87 times greater than that of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period. 

Concentrations of methane have increased by more than 150 per cent since industrial activities and intensive agriculture began, according to NASA

A little under a third of methane emissions are produced by wetlands, including ponds, lakes and rivers. 

An additional 30 per cent of methane emissions are related to oil, gas and coal extraction, and approximately a fifth of total methane emissions come from agriculture.

To date, agriculture is Ireland’s largest emitted sector, and now accounts for a third of its total emissions. In comparison, the EU average for the sector’s emissions is 10 per cent. 

The national dairy herd has consistently grown each year over the past decade, and from 2014 to 2019 alone its numbers increased by almost a quarter while milk production rose by 41 per cent. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has previously referenced the Food Wise 2025 Strategy and the removal of aforementioned dairy quotas as key factors in the industry’s growth. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson