As greenhouse gases go, methane gets less attention than carbon dioxide, but it is a key contributor to climate change.
Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 and is reabsorbed into terrestrial cycles via chemical reactions within 12 years or so. But while it’s up there, it’s much more potent, trapping heat at roughly 84 times the rate of CO2. Scientists estimate that around 25 percent of current global warming traces to methane.
When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, the chain between cause and effect is frustratingly long and diffuse. Reduced emissions today won’t show up as reduced climate impacts for decades.
In the real world, though, the news about methane is bad and getting worse. It turns out that a mysterious recent spike in global methane levels that’s putting climate targets at risk may be coming from US oil and gas fracking. If that’s true, it’s bad news, because there’s lots more shale gas development in the pipeline and the Trump administration is busy rolling back regulations on the industry.