Vigorous global efforts to control methane could shave a significant amount off of peak warming, and atmospheric methane removal could further dampen methane-emitting climate feedbacks. This will only be the case if 1) methane mitigation methods are actually adopted and scaled, and 2) methane mitigation is done in addition to all other mitigation (principally CO2, but also N2O and F-gasses) proceeding as fast as possible. To ensure both, clear and accurate communication about the state and potential of the field is essential.
Below are some of the considerations we have learned from adapting our own communications and finding what has proven effective and helpful. This guidance and the field narrative will necessarily change as the field evolves and more specifics are learned. This version was written based on our best understanding in December 2022.
- Addressing methane in parallel to addressing CO2 is crucial. Each plays a distinct, critical role in climate dynamics.
- Reducing methane emissions is a top priority; in the future, methane removal may be able to complement methane emission reductions. The potential future addition of methane removal as a tool should not dampen ambitions for dramatic methane emissions reductions now. We do not yet know at what scale future methane removal solutions will be able to operate.
- All low concentration methane removal technologies are in the early stages of research and development today.
- We don’t yet know which, if any, technologies, at what costs and with which other relevant considerations, will be able to safely achieve atmospheric methane removal at scale.
- Different methane removal techniques will have different roles and tradeoffs, which necessitates method-aware governance. For example, some methods may be easily measured, reported and verified, while others may prove to be more challenging to directly measure and verify. Any future deployment decisions or incentives, when later developed, will need to account for these differences.
- Communicate comprehensively: clearly emphasize the need to avoid and remove CO2 and the need to reduce methane emissions, and contextualize direct methane removal within a broader need for methane mitigation, which is within the broader context of parallel methane and CO2 tracks of action.
- Emphasize methane emissions reduction as the first and most important step for methane mitigation, and talk about direct methane removal methods as potential additional tools that may become viable in the future.
- Emphasize the need to use all tools to their maximum extent in addition to each other, not to trade off one for another, in order to actually realize a significant reduction of peak warming.
- Draw on and point people to the field narrative, which states the incredible potential methane removal could hold while emphasizing necessary nuance and providing appropriate context.
- Have the state of the science guide your communication. That means not suggesting that anything firm is known about potential scale, impacts, costs, externalities, deployment timelines, or other issues related to methane removal until borne out by peer-reviewed science and similar-quality efforts. Getting ahead of the science risks overselling the promise of the field, potentially leading to backlash or mitigation deterrence.
- Talk about atmospheric methane removal methods in terms of potential, using words such as “may,” “might,” and “could,” and not definitive words that suggest that large-scale solutions are available today, such as “will” and “can.”
- Be clear that all atmospheric methane removal methods, and some methane emissions avoidance methods, are in R+D stages and we cannot say with any accuracy which will be viable, which will be “good ideas” from a social/environmental/governance perspective, or how much any will cost to implement. Note where appropriate that atmospheric methane concentrations - even at 2.5x preindustrial levels - are in the single-digit ppm, hundreds of times less concentrated than CO2.
- Note that there are different forms of methane mitigation, encompassing methane avoidance, methane emissions removal, and atmospheric methane removal (see terminology in the field narrative). These methods look and function very differently, and will have different costs, different potential side effects to study, and different social questions and concerns to address. They each serve a different need and should not be lumped together in communication.
- Clearly communicate that the role of any atmospheric methane removal technique is to address elevated natural emissions, and historical emissions, and ensure that any incentives created align with this. To have a positive impact on the climate, it’s crucial that research into methane removal does not have any mitigation deterrence effect on immediate or long-term methane emissions reductions (or any other GHG, for that matter), and is not used to suggest that deployment of available solutions and the development of new methane emissions reductions solutions aren’t also absolutely required and top priorities.
- Implying that atmospheric methane removal could become a substitute for either methane or CO2 emissions reduction. To realize the potential huge benefit of shaving peak temperature, all must proceed to their greatest potential in parallel.
- Getting ahead of the science by making sweeping or overoptimistic claims about the potential for direct methane removal methods. Public communication should be based on a firm footing of peer-reviewed or equivalent scientific publications, and if anything communication should err on being conservative or cautious. Overpromising can lead both to backlash when things fail to deliver, but also to mitigation deterrence if people wrongly believe that methane removal methods can serve a greater role (or operate at a lower cost) than they will actually be able to.
- Inaccurately communicating that atmospheric methane removal via atmospheric oxidation enhancement is a well-understood, viable method, until this is known to be true, backed up by a more thorough body of scientific and social research.