Methane is having a moment.
Methane — chemical name CH4 — is a fuel. It is the primary ingredient in natural gas, which generates about 40 percent of US electricity and heats about half of US homes. It is also an air pollutant, a precursor to ground-level ozone, which is toxic to humans. And it is also a greenhouse gas, much shorter lived in the atmosphere than CO2, but much more potent while it is there.
Methane in the atmosphere comes from leaks along oil and gas infrastructure, from agriculture (primarily cow burps and manure), and from landfills. Rising concern over methane pollution has culminated in the Global Methane Pledge, announced by President Joe Biden’s White House last week, which would have participating countries (which include the EU, the UK, and Mexico) reduce methane emissions at least 30 percent by 2030.
This followed the United Nations Environment Program’s Global Methane Assessment in May, which found that substantially and rapidly reducing methane is the only way to meet the international goal of keeping warming under 1.5°C.
Clearly, for those of us who haven’t been paying as close attention as we should, it’s time to tune into the methane debate.
The Clean Air Task Force has been tracking methane pollution and advocating for reductions for years. So I was eager to talk to Sarah Smith, the head of CATF’s Super Pollutants program, about the basics of methane: where it comes from, how it can be reduced, and the battles over it in US methane policy. (See also: Smith’s op-ed in Canary.)