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Reducing Methane Emissions Is New Front In Climate Action

Published on 01 April 2014

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by Charlene Porter


Washington, D.C.

Cutting emissions of the greenhouse gas methane is the latest initiative of the Obama administrations Climate Action Plan. First unveiled in June 2013, the plan is reducing emissions of carbon and other gases shown to trap the Earths heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

In a March 28 fact sheet, the White House described the new campaign that targets methane emissions from landfills, agriculture, coal mining, and oil and gas systems. Methane emissions make up 9 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from human activities in the United States. Even prior to this initiative, methane emissions have been on a downward trend, declining by 11 percent since 1990, the White House reports.

The new strategy on methane emissions is only the latest U.S. action to address this greenhouse gas. In 2012, the United States was one of the founding nations of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, devoted to accelerating action against short-lived pollutants. These are emissions — such as methane and black soot — that have an oversized impact on climate change. Now 80 governments and organizations have signed on to this commitment, taking targeted emission-reduction actions, such as the adoption of clean cookstoves.

U.S. government agencies will conduct regulatory reviews to determine if updated standards for methane releases are warranted, according to the White House announcement. In agriculture, government agencies and the dairy industry will be rolling out a plan in a few months for wider adoption of methane digesters, devices that convert manure into methane. The gas is then harnessed as an energy source rather than vented into the atmosphere.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said farmers and ranchers are joining the methane-reduction effort. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is helping them adopt methane-capture technologies, which can also give them an entry into the renewable-energy market.

“Since 2009, USDA has provided $62 million in support for 93 methane digester projects across the United States,” Vilsack said in a statement released in tandem with the White House announcement. He said USDA is also conducting “critical research to deliver practical tools and information to help farmers and ranchers” reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to climate change.

Mining and energy production are also sources of methane emissions, an arena where the U.S. Department of the Interior has some influence. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said her agency “is taking steps to capture and sell natural gas and reduce methane emissions from oil, gas and coal development on public lands to improve air quality and achieve public health and economic benefits.”

The new initiative also directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to undertake research on methane venting in oil and gas development on private and public lands and make an assessment whether further regulation is warranted.


The government's Climate Action Plan is grounded in scientific findings that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are a chief cause of the changing climate. The international scientific panel that has spearheaded the fact-finding released another report March 31, concluding that climate change is already occurring in many places and the world is at risk for serious consequences.

More than 300 authors of the report from 70 countries find that effective responses are possible, with sufficient investment and commitment.

“Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried,” said Chris Field, a U.S. scientist who was a co-chair of the group that developed the report over several years. “Governments, firms and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation. This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group delivered this finding in Yokohama, Japan, and the news found its way to Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Europe.

“We can already see the damage [climate change is] causing to our ecosystems, wildlife, glaciers and countless other natural habitats,” Kerry said in a statement released by the State Department.

The United States is responding with its Climate Action Plan, Kerry said, but more urgent action is needed from all governments.

“The clock is ticking. The more we delay, the greater the threat,” Kerry said.



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Posted 2014-04-01 09:25:00