By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on March 9, 2017.
Phasing out methane can have environmental and economic benefits
NORTH AMERICAN CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION LEAD,
INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
To counter scientific evidence with political rhetoric, driven by feelings and unfounded opinions, not only turns logic on its head, but is also a dangerous pursuit.
One can call this “alternative facts” but they are really falsehoods. When it comes to climate change in particular, this is a risky gamble with the ecological health of the planet, all for short-term profits at the expense of future generations. The science is clear and the world’s most prominent researchers agree: human activity is resulting in our planet’s climate to change rapidly and it is creating an urgency to act.
The human species is taking the planet and all life on it into an uncharted territory. Unless we take significant action, a point of no return will be crossed and it will have devastating impact on all life, including for our own species. Most recently, with high rainfall in Lake Oroville, California, we were reminded that key infrastructure is prone to climate risks. Extreme weather events have had costly impacts across Canada, with 2013’s Alberta floods and 2016’s Fort McMurray fires still in recent memory. The science is clear – with rising greenhouse gases, the frequency and severity of extreme climate events will also increase and it will have costly impacts on our economy.
Above average environmental challenges facing the next generation will be many magnitudes greater with uncertain outcomes. Our challenge, today, is to reduce the carbon pollution that we add to the atmosphere to the extent possible and to lay the foundation for the next generation to adapt to a world that we are changing rapidly.
The rise in carbon pollution is primarily from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. Land sinks such as trees absorb a quarter of these emissions, another third sink into oceans, and the rest accumulates and stays in our atmosphere for thousands of years. Methane, on the other hand, stays in the atmosphere for only 12 years, but during this time, it is about 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Oil and gas, agriculture and waste sectors are some of the primary sources of methane. Across all these sectors, however, there are cost-effective opportunities to reduce emissions while capitalizing on the sale of methane captured.
It would be important to end the wasteful practice of venting methane (an invisible climate pollutant) and flaring it. Readers of this paper are too familiar with brightly lit flare stacks, seen and heard from the distance, and potential safety issues. Methane is an energy source that can be captured, used and sold, and a good long-term policy should capitalize on opportunities that it creates, because wasting our oil and gas resources is never a good thing. It would also be important to address leaks from equipment and poorly completed wells.
The oil and gas sector is expected to reduce methane emissions by about half by 2025 through regulations. Given the low-cost, high-reward market opportunities that methane emission reductions offer, it would be good to see the sector to either wait to see the draft regulations before commenting or better yet, publicly throw its weight behind a more stringent longer-term targets. The oil and gas sector would stand to benefit from phasing out of wasteful methane management practices. It’s going to be tough to act on climate will be a hard fact sell, both in terms of its current currency but also in terms of the cost passed onto future generations – especially given the principle role of fossil fuels in climate change.
On the agricultural side, farmers are seeing and will increasingly see the direct impacts of climate change. It’s critical for governments to think of those who put food on our table, and introduce climate mitigation and adaptation funding programs for the sectors. Alberta had introduced programs that support farm solar electricity generation and accelerating innovation in the sector.
These are good first steps. Federal and provincial programs that provide support to farmers to capture and use methane onsite and generate electricity for sale back to the grid will be critical in building resiliency for a sector that will be directly impacted by climate change. Such programs will not only result in savings but will also put money back into the pocket of farmers. Furthermore, by enhancing on-farm methane reduction and utilization, the agriculture sector could capitalize on carbon pricing policies by generating credits for sale to major emitters. That’s a win-win.
Phasing out methane is a low-hanging fruit with tremendous environmental benefits and profitable outcomes for those who take part in the solutions. To end this wasteful practice should be a no brainer, even for those living in a world of alternative facts.
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