Unchecked Methane Leaks From Landfills Risk Global Climate Targets
The Guardian’s findings has exposed a trend of more than 1,000 significant methane leaks from landfill waste dumps since 2019, posing a severe threat to global climate targets. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, has been identified as a significant contributor to global heating, and these leaks only exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis.
Satellite data analysis indicates that South Asian nations, including Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, as well as Argentina, Uzbekistan, and Spain, have become hotspots for large methane leaks. While proper waste management practices in developed countries should prevent such emissions, leaks persist.
Landfills emit methane during the decomposition of organic waste without oxygen, releasing a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere at a rate 86 times higher than carbon dioxide over 20 years.
Methane, commonly known as natural gas, has become a target for climate action due to its significant heat-trapping capabilities. Unmanaged landfills pose a serious threat, with emissions expected to double by 2050 as urban populations grow, risking a climate catastrophe.
Between January 2019 and June 2023, there were 1,256 methane super-emitter events globally, with Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh leading in large leaks, followed by Argentina, Uzbekistan, and Spain. Mitigating landfill emissions involves reducing organic waste, diverting it from landfills, or capturing emitted methane.
Experts underline that addressing methane leaks is a cost-effective measure, with some actions paying for themselves when captured gas is sold as fuel. These emissions, responsible for a third of global heating, have accelerated since 2007, posing a significant threat to staying below the 1.5°C global heating target.
Methane expert Prof Euan Nisbet from the Royal Holloway University of London suggests that covering landfills with soil is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective solution. The Guardian’s findings also indicate that many super-emitter events from oil, gas, and coal sites could be easily fixed, highlighting the potential for quick and effective measures to reduce emissions from fossil fuel operations.
President of the International Solid Waste Association, Carlos Silva Filho, points out that achieving the global methane reduction pledge of 30% by 2030 requires addressing emissions from the waste industry. Approximately 40% of the world’s waste still goes to unmanaged dumps.
Antoine Halff, co-founder of Kayrros, points out that waste, especially in countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, is a significant source of methane emissions and represents a lost opportunity to tap into a fuel resource that could meet energy needs.
India’s capital, New Delhi, has experienced at least 124 super-emitter events from city landfills since 2020. Dr Richa Singh from the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi emphasises the need for urgent intervention in the waste sector, as methane leaks from landfills contribute significantly to the issue.
In Lahore, Pakistan, an outburst in February leaked methane at a rate equivalent to emissions from 34 million car exhausts. Assessing methane leaks in Bangladesh is challenging due to the widespread illegal tapping of gas pipes, leading to major leaks in urban areas that may be difficult to distinguish from landfill emissions.
Developed nations usually regulate landfill sites, preventing super-emitter events. However, Argentina stands out as an exception, having experienced 100 super-emitter events from waste sites in Buenos Aires since 2019. The most significant event occurred in August 2020, emitting 230 tonnes per hour, equivalent to the emissions from 36 million cars.
The worst methane event in India occurred in Delhi in April 2022, releasing methane into the atmosphere at a rate equivalent to the pollution caused by 68 million petrol cars running simultaneously. The impact of Delhi’s large landfills, known as “trash mountains,” extends beyond air pollution, affecting the quality of life for nearby residents and posing serious health risks to the community.
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