Methane leaks

Put a plug in it

Governments should set targets to reduce methane emissions

THE ORACLE of Delphi’s trance-like state is thought to have been induced by gases seeping into her chamber through a crack in the ground. Some say methane was part of the cocktail. If true, the gas has shaped the course of civilisations at least three times: in ancient Greece when wars were waged and kingdoms fell on the strength of the Oracle’s prophecies, in the 20th century when methane-fuelled machines helped power industrialisation, and today, when the gas is a central but under-appreciated part of the fight against climate change.

Human activity emits far less methane than carbon dioxide, but methane packs a heavier punch. Over the course of 20 years, a tonne of the gas will warm the atmosphere about 86 times more than a tonne of CO2. As a result methane, sometimes called carbon dioxide on steroids, is responsible for 23% of the rise in temperatures since pre-industrial times. Carbon dioxide gets most of the attention, but unless methane emissions are limited there is little hope of stabilising the climate.

Unfortunately methane emissions have been anything but stable. After briefly stalling in the early 2000s, atmospheric concentrations of the gas started rising again in 2007. A…