Methane Removal Introduction

Learn more about the state, motivation, and needs of the emerging climate field of methane removal.

Methane is a short-lived, powerful greenhouse gas, currently responsible for 0.5°C of current warming—roughly a third. Staying within safer climate guardrails depends on sharp decreases in its atmospheric levels. However, atmospheric methane levels continue to rise. Cutting anthropogenic methane emissions is our first and most important tool to start bending the curve. At the same time, though, natural methane sources are expected to increase in a warming world. Scientists are increasingly concerned that these changes have already started, and that methane emissions from tropical wetlands are rising today. Permafrost thaw adds additional risk this century, and emissions from both systems will only get worse with more warming.

The emerging field of methane removal may help to address a portion of methane-driven warming and mitigate some of the risks from increasing natural methane emissions, but it cannot replace aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions or carbon dioxide removal. Much more research is needed to determine the feasibility and safety of methane removal approaches before deployment could responsibly be considered. This emerging solutions set has unique needs that will require significant support to facilitate integrated research programs and engage partners towards standing up a pragmatic and collaborative new field. 

Methane removal approaches could help manage climate risk, particularly in light of rising natural methane emissions.

Methane removal approaches are being researched to determine how methane, once in the atmosphere, can be broken down or captured faster than with existing natural systems alone. Methane removal could help to lower peak temperatures and mitigate some of the impact of elevated natural methane releases from wetlands and permafrost as a result of our changed climate. 

Learn more about natural system methane risks

Methane removal is not a replacement for emissions reductions or carbon dioxide removal.

Should they prove feasible and safe, any deployment of methane removal approaches would need to be in addition to, not instead of, other climate solutions. Any future methane removal capacity should be strictly additive to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and maximal carbon dioxide removal capacity, each of which will have their own scaling considerations.

Greenhouse gases are not interchangeable. Emissions reductions and removals are not, either.

Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries, while methane stays in the atmosphere for decades. Targets for reductions in both should be managed separately, as their impacts are not fully interchangeable.

It’s also important to distinguish between emissions reductions and removal targets. The conversation has mostly been around carbon dioxide to date — we need to both reduce carbon dioxide emissions as aggressively as possible and in parallel enable the scale up of carbon dioxide removal approaches to enable long-term net-negativity, with separate targets also suggested.  

Our overall climate solution portfolio and ambition must grow with further climate challenges, such as anthropogenically amplified natural feedbacks. In the same way that carbon dioxide and methane emissions reductions are not interchangeable, and carbon dioxide reductions and removals should be assessed separately, research towards potential methane removal approaches will need to advance strategically to ensure that our climate ambition scales to match available solutions, rather than substituting continued emissions.

Methane removal approaches draw inspiration from natural methane sinks.

Methane has a short atmospheric lifetime, about a decade, due to substantial methane sinks. The primary methane sink is atmospheric oxidation, from hydroxyl radicals (~90% of the total sink) and chlorine radicals (0-5% of the total sink). The rest is consumed by methane-consuming bacteria and archaea in soils (~5%).

Methane isn’t captured from the atmosphere and stored, like it is for carbon dioxide, but “broken down.” Some methane removal approaches being studied would enhance natural sinks. Others draw inspiration from the biology and chemistry of existing sinks to find new ways to further drawdown methane from the atmosphere faster.

Methane removal approaches need expanded research efforts, and are not yet deployment-ready.

Research into methane removal approaches is ongoing and growing, but still a small research field relative to the scale of need and potential. Robust scientific progress in these areas is important for both approach development and careful study of any potential unintended consequences.

Several categories of approaches are starting to be researched for methane removal: 

  • Methanotrophy enhancement: Accelerating the activity of methane-consuming bacteria and archaea (for example, methanotrophic soil bacteria).
  • Breakdown reactors: Closed systems that process large volumes of air to oxidize methane using a biological or catalytic process. Catalytic processes may use energy from the sun, artificial light, or heat.
  • Surface treatments: Coating panels, rooftops or other large surfaces with catalysts that oxidize methane using sunlight.
  • Atmospheric oxidation enhancement: Enhancing the reactive oxidation of methane in the atmosphere by generating or introducing airborne materials, like chlorine and hydroxyl radicals.
Learn more about approaches being researched

Scientific interest in methane removal is growing.

The scientific field around methane removal is still in its infancy today, but scientific interest in methane removal is quickly growing as awareness of the need and potential becomes more widespread. With no dedicated public funding programs supporting the field, research funding remains a major bottleneck to further growth.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has an active study on atmospheric methane removal, expected out in late summer or early fall 2024.

Learn more about the NASEM study

Establishing a robust methane removal field will require progress across multiple dimensions. There are many ways to get involved.

As an emerging field, methane removal has significant financial, research and policy needs that can best be addressed by civil society and government. Pioneering climate foundations are supporting critical early work in the field.

Integrated research programs to develop and evaluate critical new approaches
Improved understanding of evolving atmospheric sinks and impacts on non-linear atmospheric chemistry through modeling laboratory, and monitoring studies
Improved understanding and assessment of the feasibility, scalability, and safety of potential approaches
Improved scientific understanding, modeling, and monitoring of natural GHG emissions
Earth System Modeling capabilities
Ensuring methane removal always increases our overall climate mitigation ambition by complementing rather than replacing other climate responses
Civil society engagement
International engagement


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