NOAA says methane emissions have reached record levels in 2021

DPU, pipeline gauge of a broken oil well near Oklahoma

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Global emissions of methane, the second-largest contributor to man-made climate change after carbon dioxide, rose to record levels in 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

Methane, a key component of natural gas, is 84 times stronger than carbon and does not last long in the atmosphere before it breaks down. Major contributors to methane emissions include oil and gas extraction, landfill and wastewater, and animal husbandry.

“Our data shows that global emissions are rapidly moving in the wrong direction,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “The evidence is consistent, disturbing and undeniable.”

The NOAA said that last year the annual increase in atmospheric methane was 17 parts per billion, the largest amount recorded since systematic measurements began in 1983. The growth of methane in 2020 was 15.3 per billion. Atmospheric methane levels averaged 1,895.7 parts per billion in 2021, or about 162% higher than the pre-industrial level, NOAA said.

The report comes after more than 100 countries joined a coalition last year to reduce methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. The Global Methane Promotion includes six of the world’s 10 largest methane emissions – the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico (respectively). China, Russia and India, which together represent 35% of global methane emissions, did not join the pledge.

Last year, a landmark UN report declared that methane needed to be drastically reduced to avoid the worst effects of global warming. The assessment says the world could reduce methane emissions by up to 45% this decade, a reduction that would prevent 255,000 premature deaths and 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits each year.

Casey Siegel, director of the Center for Climate Law Institute for Biodiversity, said reducing methane is a relatively inexpensive and easy way to achieve significant climate benefits.

“Methane reduction must be part of a transformative global effort to phase out deadly fossil fuels for truly clean renewable energy,” Siegel said in a statement. “Less than that leads us to the catastrophic path of an unknown world.”

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Research Letters further found that reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, agriculture and other human resources could reduce climate change by up to 30%.

NOAA also warns that carbon dioxide is rising at historically high rates.

Last year the global surface average for carbon dioxide was 414.7 parts per million, an increase of 2.66 parts per million compared to the 2020 average, the agency said. The measure marks the 10th consecutive year that carbon dioxide has risen by more than 2 parts per million, the fastest growth rate since observations began 63 years ago.

Although there is some debate as to the cause of the ongoing increase in methane emissions, carbon dioxide emissions have always been a major driver of man-made climate change, the NOAA said.

“The impact of carbon dioxide emissions is increasing,” Peter Tannes, a senior scientist at the Global Monitoring Laboratory, said in a statement.

“About 40% of the Ford Model T emissions from 1911 are still in the air today,” Tans said. “We are halfway to doubling the abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”

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