Methane issue

Methane: Our best chance to fight climate change this decade

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with a devastating impact on climate

Scientists estimate the global warming potential (GWP) of methane is 84 times stronger than CO2 in a 20-year horizon.  The time to address it is now!

According to the UNEP’s 2021 Global Methane Assessment, methane’s atmospheric concentration has more than doubled since pre-industrial times. The harm caused by methane is not limited to warming the planet, either. The UNEP also estimates that human methane emissions contribute to ground-level ozone formation and cause approximately half a million premature deaths every year and harm ecosystems and crops by suppressing growth and diminishing their production.

But the methane story is also one of hope. Cutting methane emissions is a huge opportunity in the fight against climate change. It is seen as one of the most cost-effective and attainable options for mitigating global warming this decade.

Human-made methane emissions can be slashed by 45% by 2030

Methane gas production is continuing to rise

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

*One ppb is one part in 1 billion.

Recognising the opportunity to act, more than 100 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge at COP26, committing to cut methane emissions by 30% before 2030. These countries, according to the European Commission, represent 70% of the world economy, and nearly half of all human methane emissions.

Alok Sharma on the Global Methane Pledge

“I am proud that COP26 has played host to a historic pledge which will play a vital role in limiting up to 0.2 degrees of warming across the next decade.”

Alok Sharma
COP26 President

Close the landfills! It is easy

Aside from the energy sector, the two biggest sources of human methane emissions are farming and landfills. Turning landfills into Waste to Energy (WtE) projects is a ‘low hanging fruit’ climate change mitigation solution and offers the greatest opportunity to cut methane emissions – and even turn residual waste into baseload electricity. The IPCC 2021 report estimates that methane contributes 0.5 degrees to warming the planet and sets a target for cutting this by 0.2 degrees. Closing down landfills will play a vital role in achieving this ambition.

Landfills are a critical problem in many urban areas across the world. As the global population grows to a predicted 9.7 billion by 2050, we will produce 70% more waste by the middle of this century. Landfills take up valuable space and when badly managed, they pose a threat to the natural environment and human health through uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions, noxious smells, harmful leachate, and landfill fires.

When waste is poorly managed and dumped without treatment or capping, organic material breaks down and decomposes, releasing methane into the atmosphere. (Video taken by Harvest Waste at Rawalpindi Landfill, in Pakistan, 2020).

Evidence from space

It has been known for some time that cattle farming is a major contributor to methane emissions; until recently however, the impact of waste dumps was not well documented.

Recognising the impact of methane on global warming, the European Space Agency and GHGSat, among others, have started to monitor odorless and colorless methane emissions from space. Their findings are remarkable and call for urgent action by policy makers around the world!

A methane hotspot from a landfill near Jakarta, Indonesia that leaks 16 tonnes of methane per hour. As reported by BBC, that is nearly 400 tonnes per hour of  CO2 – enough to running 750,000 traditional cars for a year!

Solutions are proven and readily available

Video by ESWET – The European Suppliers of Waste to Energy | IFF – International Recovery Foundation

High-Efficiency – a carbon-negative WtE solution

An even better solution! The newest WtE technology developed and operationally proven in Amsterdam goes a step further, capturing even more energy from waste. These High-Efficiency Waste to Energy (HE WtE) systems can generate up to 50% more electricity from every tonne of waste when compared to conventional WtE systems. That allows establishment of WtE systems even in countries where the calorific value of the waste is not as high as it is in developed countries.

Besides, HE WtE technology is carbon negative, which means that it goes beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions – making it an environmental no-brainer and a cost competitive alternative to landfilling, especially in low- and middle-income countries that often rely solely on landfilling waste.

In most western European countries, Japan, South Korea, and more recently China, WtE systems are seen as an integral part of the Circular Economy, offering a more sustainable way of dealing with residual waste. This can only be in combination with stringent legislation on emission in order to create a safe sink. EU countries, for example, face stringent emissions controls and they follow up the Commission Implementing Decision 2019/2010 that establishes the best available techniques for waste incineration.

The Netherlands leads the way

Greenhouse gas reduction through better waste management

History reveals that diverting waste from landfills has a significant impact on curbing methane emissions. In the Netherlands, where a ban on landfills was announced in the early 1990s, industries developed other ways to process and dispose of waste, resulting in a significant decline in methane emissions between 1990 and 2017.

The main drivers of the decline were the introduction of heavy landfill taxes and a ban on landfilling almost all materials that can be recycled or turned into energy. This caused a shift in waste disposal towards more recycling and the introduction of WtE plants to recover energy after pre-processing residual waste. Existing landfills were rehabilitated into parks, golf courses and general recreational areas and equipped with landfill gas recovery systems. The shift towards WtE does not stand in the way of waste processing initiatives higher up in the waste disposal hierarchy: in 2019, 54% of household waste was recycled, 0.2% landfilled and the other 45.8% was used for energy recovery. According to the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in the Netherlands, the overall recycling rates from all waste streams stand at 80%.

Methane trend and emissions level of sectors in the Netherlands

Source: ClimateWatch

* 1 Tetragram equals 1 million metric tons