Climate musings February 2024

Written by Corinne McLean 

At SHIFT we love hearing about initiatives where philanthropy and scientific prowess combine to address core climate issues. One of the core issues that philanthropic interests have entered is the improvement of data to drive real change. Access to high quality data for transparency and decision making is an enormous issue in the climate space.

Although carbon dioxide CO2 is the most well known greenhouse gas, methane has 28x the ‘global warming potential’ (GWP) for each molecule released. It also degrades in the atmosphere many times faster than CO2 so comes with high risk and opportunities to affect greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are translated to carbon dioxide equivalents for reporting purposes. This GHG Protocol table shows greenhouse gases and their GWP compared to CO2.

Though announced quite some time ago, I recently heard about MethaneSAT on a fascinating podcast [Methane Detection Just Got a lot Smarter, Columbia Energy Exchange, 28 February 2024]. MethaneSAT is an initiative with philanthropic funding that aims to address a gap in data in relation to methane. It will launch a satellite in the next few weeks that will provide free, transparent methane-related data, with a mission to motivate and enable urgent action to reduce methane emissions.

MethaneSAT is led by the US Environmental Defense Fund, and the US part of the project is focused on methane leakage from oil & gas production but Aotearoa New Zealand’s NIWA agricultural programme is also involved studying global emissions from agriculture. Oil & gas production and agriculture, such as rice production and ruminant farming, are the world’s most significant sources of methane emissions. There is concern that methane emissions have been higher than estimates provided, which could have significant environmental impact. But MethaneSAT also estimates that 75% of emissions could be addressed with existing technology.

It is great to see Aotearoa involved, with agricultural methane emissions being of such key focus given that they are the largest component of our emissions, following by CO2 from road transport [1].