Methane: The other important greenhouse gas

By emitting just a little bit of methane, mankind is greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change.

Steve Hamburg EDF Chief Scientist


What is methane?
Methane is the primary component of natural gas, a common fuel source.

Why are we concerned about it?
If methane is allowed to leak into the air before being used—from a leaky pipe, for instance—it absorbs the sun's heat, warming the atmosphere. For this reason, it's considered a greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide.

Is it as important to address as carbon emissions?
While methane doesn't linger as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is initially far more devastating to the climate because of how effectively it absorbs heat. In the first two decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Both types of emissions must be addressed if we want to effectively reduce the impact of climate change.

  • About 25%of the manmade global warming we're experiencing today is caused by methane emissions.

Where is it coming from?
Methane can come from many sources, both natural and manmade. But the largest source of industrial emissions is the oil and gas industry.

 

How do we fix this?

Until recently, little was known about where leaks were occurring, or the best way to fix them. Our first step in tackling this problem was getting better research. In 2012 we kicked off a methane research series to better pinpoint leaks, and to find solutions.

Even though this 30-month project is in progress, emerging results from recent studies are conclusive: Major reductions from this sector are feasible and urgently needed.

A closer look: Explore local leaks

Raising awareness about the scale and impact of methane leaks is essential to developing effective policy.

Our pilot project with Google Earth Outreach helps visualize the climate-damaging leaks found within local communities. You can explore the problem and even nominate your own neighborhood for mapping.