Never before has there been so much greenhouse gas methane in the atmosphere as there was last year. According to European satellite measurements, methane concentration rose remarkably quickly in 2021. It is one of the main points of the annual report of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). This science program collects data on climate change in the European Union.
According to researchers, last year can certainly be added to the list of the seven warmest years ever measured. It was four years warmer than 2021, and 2016 and 2020 were the biggest outliers so far. The annual report confirmed that the summer of 2021 was the warmest on record for Europe.
Climate scientists see an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases as the main cause of rising temperatures worldwide. The amount of methane (CH4) and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere broke new records last year. Since the dawn of the industrial age, the concentration of carbon dioxide has already increased by almost half. The amount of methane increased by more than 150 percent during that period.
A molecule of methane retains more heat from the Earth than a molecule of carbon dioxide. Over time, this effect weakens. KNMI compares the climate impact of methane to oil on a fire. “It has a strong heating effect that disappears quickly as well.”
More than a hundred countries signed the “methane agreement” at the Glasgow Climate Summit last November. On the initiative of the European Union and the United States, they agreed that emissions should be reduced by 30% by 2030 compared to 2020. It is up to the countries themselves to make plans for this.
A preliminary analysis of C3S shows that the methane increase in 2021 and 2020 was much higher than in the past two decades. Scientists do not yet know exactly how this happens. “Finding the sources of the surge is challenging, as the methane comes from several different sources.” For example, methane is released during the extraction of oil and natural gas, but it also rises from swamps. Methane is also produced from livestock farming, especially as a result of the ruminant digestion process.
The Copernicus report also takes into account other weather extremes in the past year, such as floods after heavy rains in Limburg, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. But also with heat waves in the Mediterranean and unprecedented temperatures in North America.
Change the way things work
According to C3S Director Carlo Bontempo, these events “show that we need to change the way we act”. It calls for “active steps towards a sustainable society” and international cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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