Waste Management: An Overlooked Effective Tool to Cut Methane Emissions and Limit Global Warming. IPCC Report Review

August 17, 2021

Waste management, as a policy, brings the complementary emissions reductions required to reduce global warming, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's new report (IPCC AR6 WGI) released on August 9. The statement is a huge step towards reducing emissions and a major departure from previous IPCC reports.


The waste sector emits methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), through the decomposition of waste in dumps and landfills. While 82 times stronger than carbon dioxide (C02) after 20 years, for being a short-lived gas, methane was incorrectly thought to have a marginal role in global warming. Solutions reducing short-lived gases, such as effective waste management, have not been viewed as critical to mitigate climate change as solutions that reduce long-lived greenhouse gases. That all changed with the recent IPCC Report that places equal importance on limiting long- and short-lived GHGs, including methane.


GHGs effect on global warming - ten years sooner than expected

The new 4,000-page IPCC report breaks the news that human influence on the climate system is now an established fact and that a global temperature increase of 1.5ºC is likely to be reached in the early 2030s, ten years earlier than previously assessed. This reduced timetable factors in an increased concentration of emissions from human activities that more quickly accelerates global warming by creating a GHG effect that traps excess energy (see Figure 1).


According to the IPCC, global warming is responsible for changes in the climate system, such as "increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones, as well as reductions in Arctic sea ice, snow cover and permafrost" (IPCC AR6 WGI, page 20. Fig. 2). 


Figure 1. The Earth's energy budget and energy loss / IPCC AR6 WGI, p. 1816 / Graphic by IPCC

Figure 2. Possible climate futures

The importance of near-term time scales & short-lived GHGs in limiting global warming

The IPCC has adamantly stated that reducing emissions is essential to limit global warming and stabilise climate systems. It has, however, focused its attention on reducing emissions with long-term effects on climate, such as CO2, as recommended by long-term time scales.


For scientists in creating their forecast models, metrics and time scales matter when it comes to understanding the effect of a GHG. There are several metrics and time scales. Global Air Temperature Change, for instance, measured over a 100-year period is largely affected by CO2, while in a period of 10 years methane plays a significant role in temperature change (fig. 3). Although 100-year time scales have been most prominently used in previous climate assessments, the new IPCC report leaves it to policymakers to decide which time scale - and emission metric - is most applicable to their needs.  


The IPCC report’s invitation to use near-term time scales closely relates to short-lived GHGs or Short-lived Climate Forcers (SLCFs), the GHG group that mostly affects climate over a 10- to 20-year period.


It has taken scientists a while to understand the effects of SCLFs on climate. Previous science thought that SLCFs’ reductions lead to disbenefits for near-term climate change, because aerosols, a SLCF gas, have cooling effects and were believed to drive the overall effect of SLCFs as a multigas. This is no longer the case and the new IPCC report confirms that changes in SLCFs will very likely cause further warming in the next two decades, and that the influence of SLCFs on global temperature is at least as large as that of CO2 (IPCC AR6 WGI, p. 110). 


This is an important statement. It means that a previously underrated GHG group has been pointed up as key to limiting warming to 1.5ºC in the near term. And this is where the IPCC report identifies waste management’s increased role in global warming mitigation, through its effectiveness in reducing methane, the main contributor to SLCFs.

SLCFs affect climate and are, in most cases, also air pollutants. They include aerosols, which are also called particulate matter (PM), and chemically reactive gases (methane, ozone, some halogenated compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, non-methane volatile organic compounds, sulphur dioxide and ammonia). Except for methane and some halogenated compounds whose lifetimes are about a decade or more, SLCFs only persist in the atmosphere from a few hours to a couple of months." (IPCC AR6 WGI, p. 1429) 

Until the 1950s, the majority of SLCFs emissions originated from North America and Europe. Since the 1990s more than 50% of anthropogenic SLCFs originate from Asia.


Figure 3. Global surface temperature change 10 and 100 years after a one year pulse of present day emissions / IPCC AR6 WGI, p. 178 / Graph by IPCC

Waste management is essential to cut methane emissions

Methane is a powerful short-lived gas that stays in the atmosphere for 12 years. Its global warming potential is highest when the gas enters the atmosphere and sharply declines with time. Methane is so powerful that after 20 years its warming potential is still 82 times greater than carbon dioxide’s (IPCC AR6 WGI, p. 1739).  


Methane emissions are growing since 2007 at a growth rate of 7 +/- 3 ppb per year. With an effective radiating forcing (ERF) of 0.54 Wm-2, methane has an attributed contribution to global mean surface air temperature (GSAT) of +0.3ºC (IPCC AR6 WGI, p. 1798).

The main sources of anthropogenic methane are agriculture (livestock production and rice cultivation), fossil fuel production and distribution, waste decomposition in landfills and dumps, and biomass burning (fig. 4).  

The waste sector generates 55-77 Tg of CH4 emissions per year, that is, 18% of global anthropogenic methane emissions, a large enough share to help limit global warming if they were to be avoided.

Although the agricultural and fossil fuel sectors offer the largest mitigation potential, they aren’t quite there with full-fledged, viable solutions to cut emissions. The agricultural sector hasn't got a large-scale alternative to the high-polluting meat industry, and the fossil fuel sector needs massive investments that aren't available due to divestment policies. The waste sector, on the contrary, has already proven practices and technologies in place to cut its methane emissions. Practices such as waste management in combination with energy recovery and recycling can end landfills and dumps the sector main emitters slash methane emissions, and positively impact climate stabilisation with the co-benefit of improved air quality.

In sum, by phasing out landfill and dumps, the world has a way to reduce methane emissions, which the IPCC report clearly says will lessen the newly-revised – negative – impact of SLCFs and help limit global warming to 1.5ºC.

Figure 4. Data by IPCC AR6 WGI, Table 5.2, p. 1189 / Graphic by PS
by Patricia Sendin, founding partner at Frontline Waste.

ARCOMadrid 2021: Art as a Regeneration Tool

August 06, 2021

Anxiety, hope and other conditions resulting from recent lockdowns are wonderfully explored at Madrid ARCO art fair, an unusual edition taking place in July rather than in February with fewer exhibitors - 130 down from 209 last year - but more diversity with a new section for women artists. In an unrelated and discreet way, this 40th edition also brings an example of how art can accelerate rural transformation (picture above).

Visitors get a feel of lockdown anxiety with Desvelo y Horizonte (Wakefulness and Horizon), a project by Juan Uslé (b. 1954) commissioned by El País. The project includes three large-scale monochrome paintings made in his NYC apartment during lockdown and inspired by the idea of the horizon, and three oversized photographs of the Cantabrian Sea: his inspiration and recurring vision during lockdown. The photographs are dramatically placed in the wall adjacent to the paintings. A mix of images of boarded-up shops during lockdown and sketches of the sea (below) fill the rest of the space. They show drama and hope.  

Juan Uslé, Desvelo y horizonte, 2020

Opening, ARCO's section for young galleries, was particularly interesting with ten galleries and twenty one artist's projects exploring the theme of the sensual vernacular, meant as the capacity of art to incite specific feelings.  

This section showed some outstanding works like Sandra Poulson's (b. 1995) Hope as a Praxis at the Luandan gallery Jahmek Contemporary Art, recipient of the 2021 Opening Best Booth Award. The installation (below) shows different iterations of chairs in the process of breaking. They are made in hardened fabric and replicate Africa's most common plastic garden chair, commonly used as "temporary" home furniture in the belief that living conditions will improve. The chair - whose use continues even when it breaks - represents a symbol of hope for Poulson.


Another superb exhibit at the Opening section was at the Eugster Belgrade Gallery with works by Šejla Kamerić and Vladimir Miladinović.  

Kamerić (b. 1976) shows two pieces exploring the collateral consequences of conflict: Saponified Jacket of Melania Trump and Keep Away from Fire, a piece with several clothing labels sewn together. According to the artist, Keep Away from Fire introduces violence in all forms by revealing the absurdity of the instructions in the labels: "there are moments - such as war and aggression - when it is not possible to keep away from fire." 

Vladimir Miladinović (b. 1981) presents a series of paintings featuring news headlines during the pandemic (below) that, according to the gallerist, convey a brutality similar to the one experienced by the artist during the Balkan war. Miladinović is an archive artist who works with war and post-war trauma in former Yugoslavia, and explores how media creates public space, thus shaping the collective memory.

More exploration of public space comes with the aforementioned rural transformation - and repopulation - project where art is used as an engine for growth. It is somehow unusual to feature a repopulation project in an art fair but the Genalguacil Pueblo Museo Foundation responsible for the project very much excels in outreach. 

The project has been running since 1994 when the village of Genalguacil in Málaga, Spain, first organised a residence programme for artisans and artists. Today, various art programmes, including residence, commissioning and lighting programmes, take place yearly in Genalguacil's streets and museum thus adding new works to the public art collection (see pictures below). 

Recently, the project has reached its goals of increasing Genalguacil's population and opportunities. One of these opportunities is the offer to join the exclusive Most Beautiful Villages in Spain Club, which translates into more visitors and revenues. The Genalguacil example shows that art can indeed be used as a driver of growth.  

Genalguacil public artworks. Photos by Genalguacil / Isidro López-Aparicio, Arco de Viento, 2016. Photo El Mundo En Mi Camara


General Programme Selection

Keyezua (b. 1986), Fortia 11, 2017 | Movart Luanda, Angola


Isaac Julien (b. 1960), What is a Museum? (Lina Bo Bardi - A Marvellous Entanglement), 2019 | Helga de Alvear Madrid

Jessica Rankin (b. 1971), Switch of Love Black Grass and Apple, 2021 (recto: left and verso: right) | Carlier Gebauer Berlin & Madrid

Rankin's embroidered artworks are also featured in the post ARCOMadrid 2017

Left: Clara Montoya (b. 1974), Llorona, 2021 | Galería F2 Madrid 

Right: Irma Álvarez-Laviada (b. 1978), El espacio entre las cosas V, 2020 | Luis Adelantado Gallery Valencia

Álvarez-Laviada has contributed to the aforementioned Genalguacil's lighting programme with an installation.


Left: Rebecca Horn (b. 1944), Der Blutbaum, 2011 | Galerie Thomas Schulte Berlin

Right: Sheila Hicks (b. 1934), Captured Rose (front) and Cosmic Wisdom (back), 2021 | Galerie Nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder Vienna


João Tabarra (b. 1966), Hot Mountain and Standing Man, Karlsruhe, 2017 | Galeria Filomena Soares Lisbon


Left: Caio Reisewitz (b. 1967), Mamangua XXII, 2013 | Galería Joan Prats Barcelona

Right: Nahum Tevet (b. 1946), All of these (with yellow mirror), 2018 | Maab Gallery Milan


Felipe Pantone (b. 1986), Chromadyna Micap, 2021 | Polígrafa Obra Gráfica Barcelona

Left: Isidro Blasco (b. 1962), Brooklyn Cafe, 2021 | Galería Ponce + Robles Madrid

Right: Alexandre Farto aka Vhils (b. 1987), Residue Series #22, 2017-21 | Galeria Vera Cortes


Eugenio Ampudia (b. 1958), Concierto para el Bioceno 7, 2020 | Max Estrella Madrid


Agustín Ibarrola (b. 1930), Guernica Gernikara, 1977 | Galería José de la Mano Madrid

ARCO International Contemporary Art Fair | Madrid, 7 - 11 July 2021

Previous Articles 
Featured Artists
Víctor Ara
by PS unless otherwise stated. Cover picture by Víctor Ara, Echando una Escansá aka Los Pinchos, 2000, Genalguacil by García-Santos for El País 

Joanie Lemercier: Art for Climate Action

July 15, 2021

At his solo exhibition at the Telefónica Foundation, Madrid, the French artist shows seven audiovisual installations that reflect on the relationship between nature and technology, and that pose a beautiful example of how art can serve climate action.  

Lemercier's earlier works at the exhibition explore the use of technology to represent nature with video mapping and projected light to capture the grandeur - the Sublime - in landscapes, while his more recent works shift to the grandeur in the technology itself and how it can act as a destructive force to nature. 


Joanie Lemercier, Fuji, 2014
  Bagger 293 / Slow Violence, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

The Hambach Project and the Technological Sublime (2019-21) is one of Lemercier's recent works. It is structured in four audiovisual installations each showing a different aspect of Europe's largest coal mine: its exploitation; the destruction of the community; the activism supporting its closure; and the beauty of the remaining forest.

Slow Violence, the most striking of the Hambach installations, features the mine exploitation. It shows a giant bucket-wheel excavator scooping up earth from a plateau - pictured above. The machine is impressive and we read that it is a Bagger 293, the world's largest machine able to scoop 240,000 m3 of soil per day. The scene is at the Hambach open-pit coal mine close to Cologne, Germany, and the excavator is destroying the last remains of the 12,000-year-old Hambach forest to access the lignite deposits beneath. Operated by energy giant RWE, the 85 km2 mine extracts 40 million tonnes of lignite yearly for electricity generation in North Rhine-Westphalia, and emits 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year.


In addition to destroying a forest and polluting the environment, the Hambach mine has inflicted damage to the local communities and cultural heritage with the demolition of buildings and towns as the mine was expanding.  


Immerath's St. Lambertus church demolition / Slow Violence, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

The installation Here Once Stood a Forest celebrates the ancient Hambach forest - its beauty and rich biodiversity - with a projection of the forest during daytime and a night view where a laser lights up the smallest details.  

Over the past 40 years, 90% of the forest has been destroyed for coal extraction. Since 2012 the forest has been a symbol of Germany's fight against climate change.


Laser lighting / Here Once Stood a Forest, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21


Hambach Forest / Here Once Stood a Forest, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

With Action, Comes Hope is the last installation of The Hambach Project and the Technological Sublime. It shows impressive environmental activism opposing the mine and how climate action can look like. 

The artist tells how The Hambach Project has shifted his perspective on climate action and how he wants to do something and support activists through his work. This might come in addition to Lemercier's efforts to audit and minimize his carbon footprint as a digital artist. In March 2021 Lemercier notoriously teamed up with other digital artists to raise awareness on the huge CO2 footprint of CryptoArt.


Activists / With Action Comes Hope, The Hambach Project & the Technological Sublime, 2019-21

The show closes with Desirable Futures, a space packed with a mix of photography and projections with the artist's version of the future, a rather green and hopeful one. The space is possibly an invitation to visitors to think creatively about the future, while the previous installations provide encouragement to question our own use of technology and to take action.


Artist and Desirable Futures, 2020-21 / Photo courtesy of Fundación Telefónica


Joanie Lemercier. Lightscapes | Espacio Fundación Telefónica, Fuencarral 3, Madrid | 11 February - 25 July 2021

Featured Artist
Joanie Lemercier (Rennes, 1982)

Further Reading
The End of the World's Capital of Brown Coal | BBC Future Planet, 20 April 2021
Photos by PS
Cover picture, Desirable Futures (2020-21) by Joanie Lemercier


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