Global emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane may be double current estimates, posing an added challenge in the fight against climate change, researchers said Wednesday.
The new study is based on a database 100 times larger than previous ones, and uses a methodology that avoids debatable assumptions underlying earlier models.
Within the figure, the methane leaked during the production and use of natural gas, oil and coal is 20 to 60 percent higher than previously thought, they reported in a study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
"Both emissions inventories and atmospheric studies have underestimated methane emissions from fossil fuel development," Stefan Schwietzke, a scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and lead author of the study, told AFP.
Emissions from industry and natural geological sources combined "are 60 to 110 percent greater than current estimates," he said.
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The new findings may have serious implications for global efforts to cap global warming at "well under" two degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the target laid down in the landmark Paris Agreement that will enter into force next month, experts say.
"Emissions scenarios currently used for climate prediction need to be reassessed taking into account revised values for anthropogenic" -- or human-generated -- "methane emissions," said Grant Allen, a professor at the University of Manchester, commenting on the study.
Reaching the UN-backed temperature target, in other words, could be even more difficult than once thought.
While not as abundant or long-lived as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) is 28 times more efficient at trapping heat in Earth's atmosphere over a 100-year time span.
It is the second largest contributor to global warming after CO2, accounting for about a fifth of accumulated temperature increase since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-18th century.
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