We could cut methane emissions radically, and this would be a relatively straightforward way of putting the brakes on climate change. This is Andre van Amstel’s conclusion in the PhD thesis he defended on 30 May.
What is more, there are already various systems for capturing and selling methane available. In mines, for example, you can extract gas before the miners start mining a layer of rock. And in oil-drilling, of which methane is a by-product, there are opportunities too. 'Take Nigeria, where they currently blow up or flare the gas', says Van Amstel. Emissions from rubbish dumps and rice fields can also be significantly reduced.
Van Amstel is optimistic that his thesis will lead to action during the coming climate negotiations. 'You can halve emissions. And make a profit while you are at it. Governments must remove the barriers for investors and exchange international technology.' But not all the lights are green. Van Amstel is afraid that unnecessarily large amounts of gas will be allowed to escape during future gas explorations around the North Pole.
Moreover we do not have methods of reducing emissions for every source of methane. Wetlands, for instance, emit methane and human beings have very little influence on this. 'Cows also emit a lot of methane, from both ends', says Van Amstel. Research is being done on how this could be reduced, but there is not much interest in applying it. 'And meanwhile our western patterns of consumption are being adopted in China so livestock herds are growing, and emissions with them.'