The definitive CO2/CH4 comparison post

There is a new push to reduce CH4 emissions as a possible quick ‘win-win’ for climate and air quality. To be clear this is an eminently sensible idea – as it has been for decades (remember the ‘Methane-to-markets’ initiative from the early 2000s?), but it inevitably brings forth a mish-mash of half-remembered, inappropriate or out-of-date comparisons between the impacts of carbon dioxide and methane. So this is an attempt to put all of that in context and provide a hopefully comprehensive guide to how, when, and why to properly compare the two greenhouse gases.

Historical comparisons

First of all, let’s be clear about the relative magnitude of the gas concentrations. In 2020, CO2 was at ~410 parts per million, while CH4 was around 1870 parts per billion (or 1.87 ppm, a factor of more than 200 smaller). However the relative rise since the pre-industrial is three times larger for CH4, around 150%, compared to the 50% increase in CO2.

The radiative forcing from these changes in concentrations can be easily calculated using standard formulas (from Etminan et al, 2016 which supersede the slightly simpler ones from IPCC TAR), as about 2 W/m2 for the CO2 change and 0.65 W/m2 for CH4.

— source realclimate.org | Gavin | 19 Sep 2021

Nullius in verba


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