vogel1_Orjan F. EllingvagCorbis via Getty Images_methane Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images

The Global Methane Imperative

Beyond undermining public health indirectly by exacerbating climate change, methane emissions damage public health directly, by contributing to ground-level ozone and particulate pollution. Fortunately, we have the tools we need to achieve deep reductions in emissions quickly.

SANTIAGO – One of the most important achievements of last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow was the Global Methane Pledge, a commitment by more than 100 countries to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Reducing methane emissions is not only among the quickest and most effective ways to stem climate change; it would also go a long way toward improving public health.

A highly potent greenhouse gas, methane traps over 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does, and methane emissions account for roughly a quarter of current global warming. They thus bear significant responsibility for climate-related threats like more intense and frequent extreme weather events, increased food insecurity, greater infectious-disease risk, reduced access to clean water, and deteriorating air quality.

The public-health implications are severe, especially for the marginalized and under-resourced communities that already face disproportionate risks owing to factors like lack of access to medical care, poor nutrition, unsafe living or working conditions, discrimination, and exposure to other types of pollution. Beyond undermining public health by exacerbating climate change, methane (and co-emitted pollutants) damages public health, by contributing to ground-level ozone and particulate pollution.