Methane in the Earth’s atmosphere contains 200 times less than carbon dioxide. But one of its molecules is 20 times larger than a molecule of carbon dioxide, so even small concentrations of methane have a significant climatic effect. 70% of the greenhouse effect comes from carbon dioxide, 20% from methane. Experts have always known this, and now politicians have also remembered it. The Glasgow Climate Summit celebrated Rainforest Day, ending in a highly fruitful way and without talking about methane emissions, but it was important and timely.
Unlike carbon dioxide, which is virtually inert, methane reacts with many substances and is deeply involved in a wide variety of natural cycles. The source of carbon dioxide on the planet by 80-90% is the consequences of burning fossil fuels. The main source of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere is known, and formally it is not methane. At the same time, methane enters the atmosphere from a dozen equivalent sources – half natural and anthropogenic. The main natural source is swamps and waterlogged areas, they emit methane, depending on climatic conditions. Generally, the higher the humidity and temperature, the greater the methane emissions.
World leaders are concerned about anthropogenic sources of methane emissions. The main ones are rice fields and the breeding of ruminants. It is also formed by cattle, sewage, burning firewood, which is still used to heat a quarter of the world’s population. It is also the production, transport and consumption of fossil fuels – mainly natural gas, which is 90% methane.
It is not surprising that China, India and Russia did not want to sign the agreement, since these countries are the main source of anthropogenic methane emissions into the atmosphere. China and India eat rice and are also in the top five countries for cows and buffaloes. And Russia is not only one of the leaders in the world in garbage dumps and gas production, but also the world champion in the length of main gas pipelines and in the number of leaks from them.
It is impossible to hang a sensor on every cow or cut tree
In the last 15 years, a very unpleasant story has developed with methane. Around 2005, the increase in the concentration of this gas in the atmosphere practically stopped, and the world community rejoiced. The methane problem seemed to resolve itself. But that was not the case – after 2006-2007, emissions flooded upwards at a very alarming rate, adding about 1% per year. In comparison, carbon dioxide emissions are growing by 0.5% per year. It should also be taken into account that methane data is much less accurate, because it is impossible to hang a sensor on every cow in the world, and not to put a recorder on every cut down tree.
The point of the conference held in Glasgow is to fix the concentration of the main greenhouse components of the atmosphere. In the case of methane, the second most important greenhouse component, this means combating its concentration in the atmosphere. If it is possible to reduce its anthropogenic emission by 30%, its concentration will stop growing. This is incredibly important for the fight to preserve the climate.
Big problems remain in the field of gas production and transportation. Methane leaks during production and transportation are estimated at tens of millions of tons per year. Mostly old gas pipelines are flowing, which continue to operate (new ones are well made and emit much less methane). Another source of methane emissions is coal mines. When coal is mined, a gigantic amount of methane is released – for every ton of coal, about 150 cubic meters of gas. As it was done in the USSR and now in Russia, it is simply blown into the atmosphere, but this coal mine methane can be extracted in several ways, as it is now happening in China. For comparison: China produces much more coal mine methane than it receives through the well-known Power of Siberia gas pipeline.
At the same time, in normal countries, the use of methane already does not strongly poison the atmosphere. This gas is used to generate heat, just like natural gas in general. There are also technologies that make it possible to collect methane from landfills for these purposes. Against the backdrop of widespread concern, in the past 30 years, even special agricultural technologies have been developed that can reduce methane emissions from rice fields.
But you have to pay for everything, including the pleasure of protecting the climate. Its stabilization costs astronomical money, but there is no other way. In some respects, this may be beneficial over time, but at the initial stage it will always be costly. It used to be thought that the development of green energy is a whim of a rich man who simply has nothing to do, and out of idleness they build wind turbines and solar power plants. Today they produce much cheaper electricity than gas and coal. But before that, quite serious funds were invested in them.
Millions of people in the West give up their excess consumption, but in Russia it still sounds strange
It should not be forgotten that livestock is as powerful a source of methane gas into the atmosphere as gas pipelines and coal mines taken together. Is humanity ready to give up meat? What about the Chinese and Hindus from rice? These problems and others related to the production, processing and distribution of food are very sensitive areas. In the West, millions of young people are giving up excess consumption in order to contain further global warming, but in Russia and the countries mentioned above, this sounds strange.
Among the leading countries in terms of emissions, the only signatory of the agreement was Brazil, which does not produce natural gas in large quantities and is not covered by a network of gas pipelines. Despite the development of agriculture, the country is one of the world leaders in green energy and the absolute world champion in biofuel production. There is not a single gas station in Brazil that does not sell bio gasoline and biodiesel.
The so-called “carbon factor” – the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from fuel combustion – in Brazil is two times lower than in Russia. The country can afford to join this agreement on methane emissions. Brazil has a different problem – how good the country is in terms of green energy, and how bad it is in protecting forests. This problem is much more serious there, and the Brazilian authorities are very reluctant to heed the insistent recommendations of the world community to stop deforestation of tropical forests. Their current mad president says, “Europeans, Americans, you cut down your forests 500 years ago, so we will follow your example.”
Russia did not join the agreement for its own reasons. First, we have the natural problem of a large amount of waterlogged land. In addition, we have big anthropogenic problems with garbage dumps, burning biomass and everything related to natural gas – its leaks during production and transportation.
Neither in the past, nor in the present, nor in the near future of Russia, the struggle to preserve the global climate is not even included in the top ten priorities. If Russia is going to join something, it will do so only under external pressure. And you need to understand that our country is the real “master of its word” – it gave it today and returned it tomorrow. In 1997, we already signed the Kyoto Protocol and were its members until the middle of the document’s validity period, that is, until 2010. We said that we were ready to fulfill the obligations associated with it, and in 2011 we said that we did not need it. The same can happen with the Paris Agreement, and with anything else.