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Methane mitigation is crucial for upholding Paris Agreement

In a compelling report recently published by Simon Fraser University (SFU), researchers have drawn a concerning correlation between delay in the mitigation of methane emissions and the heightened risk of failing to meet the climate goals as set forth in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement aims to restrict global temperature rise to well below 2°C, and if possible, to just 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. A critical factor in this ambitious climate change goal is achieving net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by around 2050, alongside considerably reducing methane and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Immediate action is needed

The SFU study, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, advances an argument for immediate, global-scale methane mitigation efforts to be initiated before the decade ends, if we wish to contain global warming levels below the 2°C benchmark relative to pre-industrial times.

The researchers caution against any postponement of these efforts, warning that any delay in methane mitigation actions beyond 2040 would escalate the risk of global warming levels surging past the 2°C mark – this holds true even if we successfully achieve net-zero CO2 emissions.

Methane mitigation

Over the past two centuries, methane has been the second-largest contributor (after CO2) to global temperature increases. Human activities are responsible for over 60% of global methane emissions in the past four decades, largely stemming from fossil fuel exploitation, livestock production, agriculture, and waste disposal.

Study co-author Kirsten Zickfeld is a distinguished professor of climate science and director of SFU’s Climate Research Lab. She stressed the urgency of the matter: “We emphasize that actions associated with the Global Methane Pledge should not be delayed, because every year of delayed methane mitigation implies further global warming.”

Study lead author Claude-Michel Nzotungicimpaye is a former PhD student at SFU and a researcher on Zickfeld’s team. He emphasized the need for policymakers to prioritize methane mitigation. 

“While policymakers now accept the need for urgent methane mitigation, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of immediate mitigation to comply with the temperature goal in the Paris Agreement – particularly taking into account potential Earth system feedbacks,” said Nzotungicimpaye.

Focus of the study

The SFU team adopted a novel approach in their study, employing an Earth system model with an integrated methane cycle to probe the impact of immediate versus delayed methane mitigation in achieving the 2°C threshold. 

They explored the role of feedback in carbon and methane cycles and the potential long-term climate impacts of procrastination or failure to tackle methane emissions in the current century – a topic that has remained relatively uncharted territory until now.

Shocking results

What the study uncovers is profound: for every 10-year delay in methane mitigation there is in an increase of about 0.1°C in peak global warming temperature.

The findings of the study bring into sharp focus the necessity for immediate and extensive reductions in anthropogenic methane emissions worldwide. In tandem with stringent CO2 mitigation measures, these concerted efforts could maximize the chances of capping the rise in average global temperatures at well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thereby fulfilling the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Sources of methane

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential many times greater than that of carbon dioxide, although it’s less abundant in the atmosphere. There are several key sources of methane emissions:


Livestock production, especially from ruminants such as cows and sheep, is a significant source of methane. The animals produce methane as part of their digestive process, which is then released into the atmosphere. Rice cultivation is another agricultural source of methane, as the flooded paddy fields provide an ideal environment for methane-producing microbes.

Fossil fuels

The extraction, transportation, and use of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, are significant contributors to methane emissions. Methane is the main component of natural gas, and it often leaks from wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure.

Waste management

Landfills are sources of methane, as organic waste (like food and yard waste) decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen) and produces methane. Wastewater treatment facilities can also release methane.

Biomass burning

When trees, plants, or other organic matter is burned, methane is released into the atmosphere. This happens frequently in forest fires, agricultural burning, and residential wood burning.

Wetlands and other natural sources

Natural sources contribute a significant portion of global methane emissions. Wetlands are the largest natural source, as the moist, low-oxygen conditions are ideal for methane-producing microbes.

Permafrost and hydrates

Methane can be trapped in permafrost and hydrates (a type of ice that contains methane). As global temperatures rise and these structures melt, the trapped methane can be released into the atmosphere.


Termites produce methane as a byproduct of their digestion process, similar to livestock.


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