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Prioritise methane to tackle GHG emissions

David Whitehouse

Whilst the world wrestles with the economic costs and societal implications of the push for Net Zero CO2 emissions, recent observations of our atmosphere are offering a much more targeted, cheaper and cost-effective way of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Satellite observations have revealed that two major fossil fuel fields in Turkmenistan are emitting vast quantities of methane – 4.4 million tonnes a year – which because methane is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide means a global warming effect greater than that of the UK, and most other countries.

The environmental intelligence agency Kayrros reveal in the Guardian details of the “mind-boggling” methane emissions based on data released by NASA last year. It seems that Turkmenistan has been venting the methane rather than burning off the methane. Burning off, or flaring, can be detected by satellite but until now pinpointing precise sources of methane emission has not been possible.

Turkmenistan’s Methane Emissions. Image courtesy of NASA, JPL, Caltech.

Antonine Rostand president of Kayrros is quoted as saying, “Methane is responsible for almost half of short-term (climate) warming.”

Taking these findings into account alongside the recent suggestion that ozone-depleting substances are responsible for about a third of the warming leads to a simple yet startling conclusion.

It is that the quickest and most cost effective way to tackle the majority of greenhouse gas emissions is to go after methane and ozone-depleting substances emissions. Using satellites the hot spots of those outpourings can be readily pinpointed. This way tackling the much more difficult task of reducing conventional carbon dioxide emissions and their contribution to global warming can be considered in a less frantic and more realistic manner.