why is methane worse than co2

Why is methane worse than CO2? Welcome to the grand finale of gas competitions!

Carbon dioxide, the villainous greenhouse gas that has been in the news constantly for years, is on one side.

On the other side stands methane, a lethal contender that has been patiently waiting for its moment to make its presence known.

Which gas is the primary contributor to climate change? Is methane more potent than carbon dioxide?

Because methane is so much more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, even a relatively small amount can disproportionately affect global temperatures. 

Understanding More about Methane as a Greenhouse Gas

methane as a greenhouse gas

Greenhouse gases are produced by a wide variety of sources, such as:

  • Garbage dumps
  • Oil and natural gas pipelines
  • Coal mines
  • Farms
  • Wastewater treatment plans
  • Power plants
  • Manufacturing units

And methane plays a big role in global warming, as it is the most common hydrocarbon.  

Methane has a similar effect on the global average temperature and weather patterns as other greenhouse gases (GHGs) do as they accumulate in the atmosphere.

Not all is bleak, though!

Many different organisms and human activities contribute to methane emissions, but reducing them is very much possible. 

Why is Methane Worse than CO2?

When it comes to global warming, methane is a major player.

While carbon dioxide (CO2) gets most of the focus, methane is also a significant greenhouse gas that requires our attention. 

methane gas emission

In fact, this gas is even better at heat trapping than carbon dioxide (CO2).   

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas despite being 200 times less plentiful in the atmosphere and only staying there for roughly a decade.

In contrast, CO2 can persist in the atmosphere for centuries. Methane is worse than CO2 because of its immediate effects.

In order to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change in the next 10–20 years, we must immediately get to work on lowering emissions of this gas.   

The Issue with Methane

the issue with methane

Imagine a factory emitting two tons of greenhouse gases, and equal amounts of methane and CO2.

The problem is that methane begins to trap a great deal of heat almost immediately. The potency is roughly 100 times more than the CO2.

The good thing is that methane decomposes and disappears from the atmosphere swiftly.

When the first ton of methane gradually dissipates, the steadily warming effect of CO2 gradually catches up. 

How Much Worse is Methane than CO2?

The methane would trap nearly 80 times more heat than the CO2 during a 20-year time period.

During a period of a century, a ton of CO2 would trap around 25 times more heat than the equivalent ton of methane.

how much worse is methane than co2

Therefore, the relative importance of methane and carbon dioxide emissions shifts with the time frame under consideration. 

We must keep this in mind as we acquire new information on greenhouse gases and their effects on Earth.

Fact: The environmental impact evaluation of methane leakage in the natural gas supply chain is sensitive to both the measure used and the total volume of methane lost. 

Gauging the Damaging Effect of Methane

Atmospheric methane concentrations are also climbing, much like CO2 levels.

However, newly released methane is particularly damaging during the first few decades after its release.

gauging the damaging effect of methane

Scientists hope to simulate the warming effects of current methane emissions for the next twenty to thirty years.

 Using this method, we will have a better idea of whether or not we will be able to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, an important goal.

The environmental effects of recent industrial projects, such as natural gas power plants, can vary greatly. 

It would seem very different if climate scientists began using models that counted each ton of methane as 80 or 100 tons of CO2

What Makes Methane Dangerous?

what makes methane dangerous

A 100-year exposure to methane has a 28-34 times greater impact on global warming than CO2.

When a different time frame of 20 years is considered, that ratio jumps to an astounding 84-86 times.

This exemplifies the crucial role that methane plays in driving global warming.

It is worth noting that human activities are responsible for over 60% of the world’s methane emissions.

The following are examples of human-caused methane emissions:

  • Oil and gas businesses
  • Agriculture (includes fermentation, waste management, and rice cultivation)
  • Landfills
  • Coal-mine emissions
  • Wastewater treatment

In order to protect our world, we must learn about the devastating effects of methane and collaborate on finding ways to reduce our emissions.

Fact: Each year, 110 million tons of methane are estimated to be released into the atmosphere through the production, distribution, and consumption of fossil fuels alone. 

Methane, CO2 and Global Warming

methane, co2 and global warming

Greenhouse gases like methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are major contributors to global warming because they trap heat on Earth’s surface.

Despite the fact that carbon dioxide (CO2) is more common, it is incorrect to assume that it is the primary cause of climate change.

Methane is a far more powerful and harmful greenhouse gas. Why methane is even more dangerous than carbon monoxide?

It is mainly because even though methane has lower atmospheric concentration, it has a greater ability to contribute to global warming.

Many other factors play a role here.

For instance: 

Lifetime in the atmosphere

lifetime in the atmosphere

Methane’s atmospheric lifetime is around 12 years, whereas carbon dioxide might be hundreds to thousands of years.

Something appears positive, yet it has negative consequences.

With a shorter lifetime than other greenhouse gases, methane decays more rapidly.

However, this also means that any reduction in emissions may have a more immediate influence on the climate. 

Products of Methane Decomposition

products of methane decomposition

Carbon dioxide and ozone are produced alongside other greenhouse gases as methane decomposes in the atmosphere.

Ozone is a powerful greenhouse gas, particularly harmful to human health and agricultural output.

As a result, methane’s effects on the environment are not limited to the warming potential of the gas itself, but also include those of its byproducts.

Although carbon dioxide (CO2) is mostly to blame for the greenhouse effect, methane also plays a significant role.

Around sixteen percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions came from methane in 2019.

Fact: Although there is a lot of room for error in methane emission estimates, the most recent all-encompassing estimate puts annual worldwide methane emissions at roughly 570 Mt. 

What Leads to an Increase in Methane Emissions?

increase in methane emissions

You see, the air is contaminated with methane due to the release of the gas from wetlands, wildfires, and thawing permafrost. Methane emissions can also be triggered by human actions.

Methane and our planet have a complicated relationship right now. Warmer temperatures cause these natural sources to produce more methane.

This additional methane causes the planet to heat up, which in turn releases even more methane.

It is like a gigantic loop that just keeps running and going, gradually heating up the Earth.

This is why preventing global warming by caring for our planet is crucial. 

Emissions from Agriculture

emissions from agriculture

Methane gas is produced in animals’ stomachs as they feed.

When this gas is released into the atmosphere, it has a negative impact on Earth.

Methane emissions rise when the global population increases due to the increased number of livestock used to satisfy the growing demand for meat and milk.

This means that agricultural activities will emit considerably more methane into the atmosphere. 

An Important Consideration

A key aspect of climate change mitigation methods is methane’s much larger warming potential and the ongoing replenishment of its atmospheric levels.

This means countries that want to reduce their ecological footprint must prioritize methane management.

Unfortunately, no universal technological technique or a defined mechanism for reporting methane emissions exists.

It is incumbent upon us to work together and devise effective strategies for detecting, reporting, and ultimately reducing the negative impacts of methane emissions.

Fact: Besides being released into the atmosphere, methane also acts as an important part of the carbon cycle on Earth. 


Why is methane worse than CO2?  It is mainly because methane is much more effective at trapping heat than CO2.

If we care about keeping Earth from overheating, we must figure out how to reduce methane emissions.

Changing how we produce and what we eat is a big part of the problem, making it difficult to tackle.

Yet if we all pull together and put some thought into the decisions we make, we can make a difference for our planet.