Science 3 min read

Global Methane Emissions hit Record High in 2020

Andrew Martin  /

Andrew Martin /

Reports suggest a steady decline in carbon dioxide emissions due to the pandemic. However, the reverse is the case for methane emissions.

According to a study by Stanford University, global methane emission surged between 2000 and 2017.

Annual methane emissions have increased by 50 million tons per year compared with the early 2000s. That’s equivalent to putting 350 million more cars on the world’s roads.

In 2017 alone, 600 million tons of the greenhouse gas entered Earth’s atmosphere. The number is even more disturbing because methane is 28 times more powerful than CO2 at trapping heat over 100 years.

What’s responsible for the growing emissions? The answer is simple — fossil fuel burning and cows.

Lead author of the study and a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental, Rob Jackson said:

“Emissions from cattle and other ruminants are almost as large as those from the fossil fuel industry for methane. People joke about burping cows without realizing how big the source really is.”

The researchers published their findings in two papers — Earth System Science Data and Environmental Research Letters.

How Agriculture and Fossil Fuel Contribute to Methane Emissions

According to the study, agriculture and fossil fuel have contributed roughly equal amounts to methane emissions since the early 2000s.

But during the study period, agriculture accounted for about 66.6 percent of all methane emissions related to human activities. Likewise, fossil fuel contributed to the remaining 33.3 percent.

Manufacturing and transportation came to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a decrease in carbon emission. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with methane.

There’s no chance that methane emissions dropped as much as carbon dioxide emissions because of the virus,” Jackson pointed out. “We’re still heating our homes and buildings, and agriculture keeps growing.

What to Do

The researchers suggested reducing fossil fuel use to curb methane emissions. These include controlling fugitive emissions such as pipeline leaks and wells.

Also, it would be best to introduce measures to control emissions from cattle and rice farming.

For example, rice farming can transition from permanent waterlogging that maximizes methane production in a low oxygen environment. Similarly, feed supplements such as algae could reduce burps from cows.

Finally, Jackson suggested using aircraft, drones, and satellites for monitoring methane from oil and gas wells.

“I’m optimistic that, in the next five years, we’ll make real progress in that area,” he said.

Read More: Oxygen-Rich Bodies of Water Also Contribute to Global Methane Cycle

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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