Targeting methane will slow global warming

16th January 2012

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  • Transport ,
  • Resource extraction ,
  • Energy ,
  • Agriculture



Smarter air pollution measures targeting emissions of methane and black carbon could slow global temperature rises by 0.5ºC by 2050, according to scientists.

In a new study, published today in the journal Science, researchers from NASA and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York, identify 14 measures which they argue could have a swifter impact on global warming than cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

The scientists claim that capturing methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and tackling emissions of black carbon – a product of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels or biomass which is particularly harmful to human health – is possible with existing technology and could prevent up to 4.7 million premature deaths and boost crop yields, as well as play a key role in slowing global warming.

Co-author of the study, Professor Martin Williams from the environmental research group at King’s College London, said: “Measures taken now to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will not have any effect on the global climate for another 40-50 years. We have shown that there are things we can do now to begin to mitigate the temperature increases.’’

Measures suggested to tackle black carbon emissions include keeping high-polluting vehicles off the road, installing particle filters in diesel vehicles, upgrading stoves, boilers, kilns and coke ovens, and banning agricultural burning.

Meanwhile the levels of methane in the atmosphere could be cut by capturing gas that currently escapes from coal mines, oil rigs, gas pipelines and landfills, updating wastewater treatment plants and limiting emissions from manure.

“All 14 measures can be implemented immediately, so they do not require long development processes. The measures maximise climate benefits but would also have important 'win-win' benefits for human health and agriculture”, said Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, fellow author and centre director of the SEI.


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