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Rising Methane Levels and Climate Transition: Concerns


The increase in methane levels in the Earth’s atmosphere has prompted worries regarding the ongoing climate transition. The escalation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, has led to discussions about the possibility of Earth undergoing a ‘termination-level transition’ akin to historical climate shifts.


GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Methane
  2. Termination-Level Transition
  3. Methane’s Threat to Warming Limits
  4. Initiatives Combatting Methane Emissions


  • Methane is the simplest hydrocarbon, composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms (CH4).
  • It is flammable and widely utilized as a global fuel source.

Potent Greenhouse Gas:

  • Methane holds significant greenhouse gas properties.
  • Over the initial 20 years of its atmospheric existence, methane’s warming potential surpasses carbon dioxide by more than 80 times.

Diverse Emission Sources:

  • Approximately 60% of methane emissions stem from fossil fuel utilization, farming, waste, and landfills.
  • Natural sources, particularly decaying vegetation in tropical and northern wetlands, account for the remaining emissions.

Termination-Level Transition:

  • The term “termination-level transition” signifies a remarkable and sudden alteration in Earth’s climate from one state to another.
  • These shifts manifest through swift and substantial changes in diverse climatic elements, carrying potential extensive impacts on ecosystems, weather patterns, and overall environmental equilibrium.
  • Earth’s historical timeline has witnessed termination-level transitions, frequently linked to the culmination of ice ages and the ensuing transition into warmer interglacial periods.
  • The triggers for these transitions encompass various factors such as alterations in ocean currents and modifications in atmospheric composition.

Methane’s Threat to Warming Limits

Potent Heat Trapper:

  • Methane outperforms carbon dioxide (CO₂) in heat retention capability.
  • Its atmospheric life span is shorter, lasting less than a decade, unlike CO₂ that persists for centuries.
  • Despite its lower presence, methane’s heat-trapping potency is 28-36 times stronger over a century.

Escalating Concentrations:

  • Initial methane content was 0.7 parts per million (ppm) before human fossil fuel consumption.
  • It has now exceeded 1.9 ppm and is escalating rapidly.

Challenges for Temperature Control:

  • Escalating methane levels complicate achieving safe global warming limits.
  • Augmented methane intensifies the greenhouse effect, exacerbating temperature elevation.
  • Rising methane content brings the planet closer to perilous temperature thresholds.

Amplified Impact:

  • Methane-induced warming triggers further methane release from thawing permafrost and melting Arctic ice.
  • Such a feedback loop magnifies the warming consequences.

Ecosystem Disruption:

  • Elevated methane levels disrupt ecosystems, impede natural processes, and impact biodiversity.
  • Vulnerable habitats like wetlands are especially susceptible to methane-induced transformations.

Sea-Level Rise Catalyst:

  • Methane amplifies sea-level rise by accelerating polar ice and glacier melting.
  • This further jeopardizes coastal communities and exacerbates climate change repercussions.

Initiatives Combatting Methane Emissions

Indian Initiatives:
  • ‘Harit Dhara’ (HD): An anti-methanogenic feed supplement developed by ICAR that reduces cattle methane emissions by 17-20% and enhances milk production.
  • India Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Program: Led by WRI India, CII, and TERI, this industry-led framework helps organizations measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions for sustainable business practices.
  • National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC): Launched in 2008, NAPCC raises awareness about climate change and outlines strategies to counter its effects.
  • Bharat Stage-VI Norms: India adopted more stringent BS-VI emission norms to control vehicular emissions.
Global Measures:
  • Methane Alert and Response System (MARS): Integrates satellite data to detect methane emissions globally and notifies stakeholders for immediate action.
  • Global Methane Pledge: Around 100 countries pledged at UNFCCC COP 26 to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels.
  • Global Methane Initiative (GMI): An international partnership promoting the recovery and use of methane as a clean energy source.

-Source: Down To Earth

May 2024