The world certainly won’t get on a path to curb warming by levels targetted in climate deals, conferences and speeches of leaders across the globe if it continues to fail to tackle its methane problem. Methane emissions have increased by 10% over the past two decades, reports Nature. Nearly 600 million tonnes of methane were emitted in 2017, the latest year for which data is available. Atmospheric concentration now stands at 2.5 times the pre-industrial levels. What makes methane especially dangerous for climate change is the fact that it can cause a lot of warming over a short period—it has an atmospheric life of about 12 years versus carbon dioxide’s ~100 years—given its heat-trapping capacity is 20 times that of CO2.
While bacterial action in wetlands is responsible for a third of methane emission, the recent rise, scientists say, is not from these. Agriculture and fossil fuels, each accounting for ~25% of the emissions, saw a sharp rise—agricultural emissions, thanks to soaring red meat and dairy consumption, rose by 12% while emissions from fossil fuels increased by 17%. While the world seems inclined to turn away from fossil fuels, livestock farming for meat and dairy could be a different ballgame altogether.
There are cultural factors and dietary preferences, apart from livelihoods, associated with the consumption of meat and dairy—getting people to temper consumption could be a politically fraught question. Even though mock-meat, lab-grown meat, plant-based dairy substitutes, etc—thanks in no small measure to the global vegan movement—have become popular, whether a meaningful move away from meat- and dairy- based diets is even possible remains a big question.