Greenhouse gases: why it is urgent to limit methane

Greenhouse gases: why it is urgent to limit methane
While carbon dioxide accounts for almost 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, it is not the only cause of global warming. Methane, another greenhouse gas, absorbs and releases 28 times more heat to the atmosphere. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed to lift methane emission limits for the oil and gas industries. Citizens and elected officials had until November 25 to send their comments, which did not fail to stir up the debate between climate-skeptics and the Paris agreement. There is no doubt that this decision was influenced by the all-oil policy of President Donald Trump.

Emission and pollution: two concepts to be handled with care

The complexity of climatic phenomena often forces us to take unfortunate shortcuts. It is not because an industrialist emits a lot that he will pollute more than an industrialist who emits less. The important thing is to determine what is emitted. The emissions that mainly contribute to global warming are called greenhouse gases. They gather all the components which absorb the solar rays and redistribute them in the form of radiation on the surface of the Earth. There are more than 40 such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and methane. However, not everyone pollutes in the same way. In order to determine their dangerousness, the IPCC uses the Global Warming Potential, an index measuring the warming power. Each gas is therefore compared to 1 kg of carbon dioxide over 100 years. According to the results of the IPCC, methane has a heating power 28 times greater than carbon dioxide. In other words, a methane particle accelerates the degradation of the ozone layer and therefore global warming 28 times more than carbon dioxide. Therefore, although methane only accounts for 10% of emissions, the pollution it causes is just as worrying as that of carbon dioxide.

The untenable posture of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The speech of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completely contradictory today. The agency advocates since August 2019 the cancellation of the methane emission thresholds of the gas and oil industrialists, whereas it had set them itself in 2012 and 2016. Worse, the EPA even claims to save $ 17 to $ 19 million a year to this industrial sector. A drop of water for the actors of the American Oil and Gas which brewed more than 28 billion dollars of profit in 2018, but a terrible signal sent to the international community, while the oil sector is the first contributor to the emissions of methane in the United States. Following this proposed amendment, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) demonstrated that, in addition to offering a tax gift to the gas and oil industries, this modification of the current regulations would lead to the issuance of 5 million tonnes of additional methane, the equivalent of heating more than 4 million homes.

The incomprehensible trajectory of the United States in terms of climate

If the fight against global warming involves citizens as economic actors, it mainly involves political power, which alone is able to set a common trajectory. Today, President Donald Trump's policies threaten the viability of US climate initiatives by methodically undoing all of the advances that had been voted for until then. However, the task is immense and continues to grow. Methane leaks come from all links in the gas and oil value chain: production, collection, storage and distribution. The number of oil installations has also increased in the United States due to the shale rush. An American study has shown that the methane emitted during the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas has a different structure from that emitted during the extraction process of conventional gas or agricultural activities. Thanks to this discovery, the study makes a direct link between the increase in shale gas production and the increase in methane emissions in the United States.

Will the United States one day enter the fight against global warming?

Since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing in the United States. At the same time, many oil companies insist on explaining that gas is the only viable vector for the energy transition. However, the climate pressure is such that there can be no solutions. The US energy mix is   still dominated by polluting primary energy sources such as oil at 36% and gas at 31%. The United States is therefore very far from the objectives set by the Paris Agreement and does not seem to care about it in light of the massive investments made in recent years in polluting energies such as shale gas. These investments not only change the energy sector, but also disrupt the downstream processing industries. In fact, the American chemical industrialists invested nearly 200 billion dollars in 2018 in installations adapted to shale gas, and the trajectory is upward…

In the short term, the main enemy of global warming is not carbon dioxide, but the other greenhouse gas, methane. With greater heating power, it especially enjoys a shorter lifespan. Therefore, if methane emissions stop, the gas in the atmosphere will dissipate faster than carbon dioxide for an equal time interval. It is therefore the quickest solution to significantly bend the temperature rise curve. Unfortunately, the American executive remains deaf to these arguments.

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