Académie des technologies

Methane (CH4): where it comes from and its impact on our climate

In a recently published Academic Report, the National Academy of Technologies of France (NATF) tentatively answers some questions arising from the observed, constant increase of methane released into the Earth’s atmosphere. How are the various geographic source locations identified? How does one measure the global increase of CH4 in the atmosphere? What criteria can be evoked to consider reducing these emissions? Should we prioritize and commit efforts to reduce CH4 or CO2 both of which contribute to man-made climate warming?

Although methane gas (CH4) has a far lower concentration in the earth’s atmosphere than CO2, it is, to a large degree, responsible for global climate warming.
Indeed, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG), produced in a variety of manners, either from natural sources in the planet’s wet-lands, or generated by human activities: agriculture, stock-raising or in certain industrial sectors (mining or gas extraction operations …).
NATF offers some keys to a better understanding of how methane emissions are evolving and issues a set of recommendations to reduce them, such as: taking regular control measurements of the atmospheric composition above the Earth’s main forest regions and large agricultural zones; reinforcing research on conditions prevailing in the wet-lands, which represent a major challenge, notably in Arctic tundra that could potentially release massive amounts of CH4 from the permafrost; investigating how the CO2 equivalent for methane should evolve over the next few decades with a view to optimizing national and international climate policies …
A series of actions (over and above the NATF’s set of recommendations) is proposed: for short-term implementation in the wet-lands, waste disposal areas, manures, termites, mines and gas, oil or coal-burning power stations. The Academy’s Report concludes that “methane gas emissions can be avoided”: largely through decisions enforcing several economically viable measures, many of which would not only induce less changes in our life styles than reducing CO2 emissions, but would allow for beneficial side-effects.