Methane is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and accounts for 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Reductions in anthropogenic methane emissions plays a pivotal role in the UK Government meeting its Kyoto targets.
Whilst significant reductions have been made since 1990, these have been largely fortuitous being due to a decline in the UK coal industry, and improved landfilling technologies. If such reductions are going to continue a coherent set of policies focussing on methane need to be developed. The methane UK project, supported by Biffaward, is examining the technological options for reducing emissions from each of the key sectors of landfill waste, agriculture, coal mining and the natural gas industry. Methane can also be used as a fuel for generating electricity or heat, and from some sectors but not all is seen as a renewable energy resource. Methane from landfill sites is produced by the decomposition of biodegradable waste giving methane has a unique role in the UK economy - as a climate changing greenhouse gas, as a fuel, and as a biproduct of waste disposal. It is essential that these competing roles are can be amalgamated into coherent policy options that lead to the most environmentally desirable solution.
One of the promising policy measures under consideration is that of emissions trading. The UK and the European Union have recently launched schemes in which permits to emit greenhouse gases may be traded on stock markets as if they were conventional commodities such as gold or oil. These have the potential to reduce emissions at minimal cost to the UK economy. The Methane UK project examines if and how methane might fit into these trading schemes, as well as examining more conventional direct policy measures.