Cutting methane sharply now is crucial, as focusing on carbon dioxide alone will not be enough to keep rising temperatures within livable limits, scientists have warned.
CO2 is the greenhouse gas most responsible for heating the planet, with most of it coming from the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, it has been the major focus of international efforts to prevent climate breakdown.
However, other greenhouse gases also have a sizeable warming effect, and if we ignore them we will fail to keep temperatures within globally accepted limits, according to research published on Monday.
The study found that cuts to CO2 alone could not achieve the reductions needed to stay within 1.5C of pre-industrial temperatures.
But cutting methane and other “short-lived climate pollutants” (SLCPs) such as soot would reduce the global heating effect in the near term, thus giving the world “a fighting chance” of staving off climate catastrophe, the scientists said. Methane warming effect is as much as 80 times that of C02, although it quickly degrades in the atmosphere.
Prof Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Washington-based Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), and co-author of the paper, said cutting methane offered a quick way to reduce global heating while the world pursued longer term cuts in CO2.
“We can’t solve the fast-moving climate problem with slow-moving solutions. Like Maverick [the Tom Cruise character in Top Gun], we’d better start feeling the need for speed,” he said.