Energy & Environment

Methane emissions break record for second consecutive year: NOAA

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Methane emissions worldwide spiked in 2021 and broke the record set the previous year, according to data released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A preliminary analysis from NOAA indicated that measured atmospheric methane increased by 17 parts per billion (ppb) last year, surpassing the 15.3 ppb increase in 2020.

NOAA scientists estimate, based on 2021 data, that global methane levels are around 15 percent higher than they were between 1984 and 2006.

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. 

“The evidence is consistent, alarming, and undeniable. We need to build a Climate Ready Nation to adapt for what’s already here and prepare for what’s to come. At the same time, we can no longer afford to delay urgent and effective action needed to address the cause of the problem – greenhouse gas pollution,” Spinrad added.  

Methane is the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide, but is about 25 times as effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere. In addition to fossil fuel production, it can be emitted by decaying organic matter and livestock digestion. 

Despite this, scientists see a number of opportunities to reduce methane emissions that may be logistically easier than carbon dioxide emissions. Major sources of emissions include leaks in oil and gas wells and pipelines, so upgrades and maintenance are one possible solution.

Advocates also point methane’s relatively short life in the atmosphere, meaning a focus on reducing the gas’s atmospheric concentration could be particularly effective in curbing overall warming. 

However, a February report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicated a further complication: Individual countries are undercounting their methane emissions. The IEA report found North American countries are undercounting by about 33 percent, compared to 26 percent in the Asia-Pacific region. The underestimates were even more dramatic in the Russian-Caspian region (55 percent) and the Middle East (83 percent).  

Tags Climate change emissions methane emissions methane emissions NOAA Rick Spinrad
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