The United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow highlighted the urgency of reducing Short-Lived Climate Pollutants like methane and black carbon as the most effective steps to reduce global warming. As the head of the UN Environment Program stated, “Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years . . . we need to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”
In California, organic waste causes 87 percent of all methane emissions, which are 74 times more damaging to the climate than the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel burning. Open burning of forest and agricultural waste, wildfires, and diesel are the largest sources of black carbon emissions, which are 3,200 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide on a 20-year time horizon.
On the positive side, reducing methane and black carbon benefit the climate right away. Reducing fossil fuels – while critically important in the long term – won’t begin to benefit the climate until 2050 or later. In other words, we have to do much more to reduce methane and black carbon to begin cooling the planet down right away. As Dr. V. Ramanathan, a climate scientist from UC San Diego says, reducing methane, black carbon, and other Short-Lived Climate Pollutants is “the last lever we have left to avoid catastrophic climate change.”
Bioenergy cuts methane emissions from landfill waste, wastewater treatment facilities, dairies and other livestock waste. It can also cut black carbon emissions from burning of agricultural and forest waste and from diesel. According to the California Air Resources Board, bioenergy cuts black carbon and methane emissions 98 percent compared to open burning.
For more information, see https://bendingthecurve.ucsd.edu/